6/26/12 System may lose more funding

System may lose more funding
By Mike Wilder The Times-News 6/26/12     
Reprinted with permission.

   The Alamance-Burlington School System could lose an additional $4 million in state money for 2012-13, school board members were told Monday night.

   Bill Josey, the system’s executive director of finance, said a change that would take away flexibility in how school systems pay for positions will have a significant impact unless it is reversed.

   Josey said the state has allowed local systems to pay the more expensive salaries of experienced employees using state money, while paying for positions filled by less experienced employees with state or local money.

   The Alamance-Burlington system stands to lose as much as $4 million a year, Josey said, because it is one of the systems in the state that has used the flexibility to greater advantage than some others. He and Superintendent Lillie Cox said the proposed change was in neither the House nor Senate version of the budget that now contains the provision following reconciliation of the two budgets. N.C. Gov. Beverly Perdue has not yet acted on the budget.

   Board members Mary Erwin and Steve Van Pelt urged people to contact state legislators who represent Alamance County — including N.C. Reps. Alice Bordsen and Dan Ingle and N.C. Sen. Rick Gunn — to advocate that flexibility be restored. Van Pelt suggested people might also contact leaders of the House and Senate. Board member Tony Rose said he had spoken with Bordsen and Ingle in Raleigh, along with Gunn’s wife, in Raleigh on Monday to ask for their help.

   Another surprise Josey discussed was a letter the system received from the county Monday. The letter said the school system would receive the same amount it was expecting from the county — $31.15 million for 2012-13, down from $33.5 million in 2011-12. But the county was changing what it is giving the system by reducing the operating budget by $750,000, while providing $750,000 for building and maintenance needs.

   School board chairwoman Jackie Cole described that as the county “giving us what they told us what they were going to give us but they’re telling us how to spend it” and in doing so, making it harder to meet needs that affect classroom instruction.

   Rose asked if the change were negotiable, and other board members agreed an attempt to persuade the county to reverse its decision would be wise.

   BOARD MEMBERS agreed Monday night they won’t decide how to deal with reduced funding until they know more about how much money will be available.

   Cox said the board, which has no meetings currently scheduled for July, will need to have a special meeting to consider employee hirings and to talk about the 2012-13 budget once it knows how much money to expect from the state.

   Cox has listed potential cuts such as eliminating orchestra programs in schools that have them, elimination of middle school athletics, elimination of foreign language instruction other than Spanish and reducing the local salary supplement teachers receive in addition to their pay from the state. Board members and Cox have also discussed using the system’s fund balance to avoid or minimize cuts.

   Josey said he expects the fund balance to be about $12 million as the new fiscal year starts. The school system would need to add $1.5 million to the $4 million it planned to spend during 2012-13 to cover operating costs if there are no cuts beyond ones made in previous years, he said. That’s not taking into account the $750,000 shift from the county from operating to building/ maintenance expenses, he said, or money that would be lost if the state keeps in place the removal of flexibility in paying employee salaries.

   BEFORE THE MEETING , orchestra teachers from the Cummings and Williams zones played string instruments outside the school system’s central office. Using humor to demonstrate their concern, their music included the hymn “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” played by ship musicians on the Titanic as it sank.

   Orchestra student Gregory Palomino and his mother, Kimberly Martin, attended the meeting. Martin played a recording from a regional honors orchestra concert in which her son played.

   Palomino, a rising freshman at Williams High School, has played double bass as one of Jody Gaedtke’s orchestra students atTurrentine. Martin said her son, who is autistic, was once taught exclusively through the exceptional children’s program. She credited his participation in orchestra with contributing to his academic success as he has moved toward mainstream classroom instruction.

   “Gregory has started composing music,” she added. “He would not be able to do that (except) for his classical music training.”

   Toward the end of the board’s budget discussions, Simpson asked for and got a consensus from the board to have Cox do everything possible to avoid cuts to programs offered to students. Simpson said she has been troubled by emails from teachers in the arts who feel they may need to look for jobs somewhere else. She said she would vote against any cuts to orchestra or other arts programs.

   “Please hang in there with us,” Simpson said. “We’re going to do the best that we can do.”