6/18/12 Schools rankled over fund figures

Schools rankled over fund figures
Leaders say numbers reported don’t reflect budget reduction
By Michael D. Abernethy The Times-News 6/18/12     
Reprinted with permission.

   Alamance-Burlington Schools officials are frustrated over funding figures County Manager Craig Honeycutt gave the Times-News during a discussion of the county’s 2012-13 budget last week.

   They say the amounts of state dollars proposed by the state House and Senate, as reported in the Times-News on Saturday, in reports from the Department of Public Instruction and provided by Honeycutt, don’t accurately reflect the reduction in their budget. In that story, Honeycutt was quoted as saying the schools would come out better than expected despite the local funding decrease.

   Officials also bristled at the mention of ABSS having a $21 million fund balance. The schools had that amount last July, but have since allocated $8.9 million of that toward technology programs, local teacher supplements, maintenance and other expenses. The schools believe that about $12 million will remain in their fund balance on July 1, and have notified the county manager’s office of those expenditures throughout the year, they said.

   The frustration comes as the Alamance County Board of Commissioners prepare to hear and vote on Honeycutt’s revised 2012-13 county budget tonight, capping off a particularly contentious year in local and school budget planning.

   The revised budget proposal includes a 7 percent cut in funding for outside agencies — including the schools — less than the 10 percent cut first proposed. Honeycutt’s slimmer budget does away with a proposed 2.5 cent property tax increase, $500,000 in capital expenditures for the Sheriff’s Office and 2 percent employee raises.

   The commissioners meet at 7 p.m. today.

   The school system requested $34,520,907 from the county for its 2012-13 budget, restoring 2010-11 funding levels, said ABSS Finance Director Bill Josey. The county’s proposed budget reduced that amount to $33.4 million in local funding, the same amount it gave ABSS in 2011-12. The proposed 7 percent cut would shave a little more than $2.3 million from that.

   “It’s closer to the 6 percent we had planned for than 10 percent, and that’s good, but 7 percent is a large cut to take all in one year,” Superintendent Lillie Cox said.

   The school board will decide how the cuts will be absorbed or off-set by more fund balance spending, Cox said.

   ABSS has requested a total budget made of local, state and federal funding sources of $171 million. $109.2 million of that is in state requests.

   Josey believes the ABSS funding figures proposed in the General Assembly — $115,709,070 in the House and $113,090,415 in the Senate — don’t tell the whole story. Federal EduJobs funding is ending, cutting $4.3 million from ABSS’ budget, Josey said.

   The House proposal restores that amount for local schools, but only for one year. The Senate proposal cuts $2.3 million from what ABSS would have seen with EduJobs funding, he said. Josey also noted that those are proposals and that the Senate and House are still wrangling over the annual budget.

   At the county’s request, the schools have notified Honeycutt’s office of its fund balance and expenses on a monthly basis since December, said Cox, Josey and ABSS Board of Education Chairwoman Jackie Cole.

   “We are now down to $12 million. That’s very different from $21 million,” Cole said. “We have continually updated the county as to (the amount of our fund balance).”

   Josey projects that the county will have spent $9.5 million of its fund balance by July first.

   ABSS planned to present Honeycutt with the updated fund balance projection, as of Friday, on today.    Honeycutt could not be reached for comment Sunday.