3/27/12 School board adopts budget

School board adopts budget
System to request restoration of funds cut from 2011-12
By Mike Wilder The Times-News 3/27/12     
Reprinted with permission.

   The Alamance-Burlington School System is requesting more money from the Alamance County government in 2012-13 than it received for 2011-12.

   Members of the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education voted Monday night to ask that the county restore money cut from the 2011-12 budget. That includes a little more than $1 million to cover operating costs and $750,000 used for maintenance of buildings and grounds.

   The system is expecting to receive about $1.1 million less from the state for 2012-13 compared to 2011-12. It also will be without federal stimulus money available during the three most recent fiscal years. The system spent $4.3 million in federal stimulus money during 2011-12.

   The school board voted to approve the budget request after Superintendent Lillie Cox explained the budget during a hearing held earlier in the evening.

   School board member Tony Rose voted with the rest of the board to approve the budget request, though he suggested it would be more prudent to ask for the $750,000 to be restored this year, while waiting an additional year to ask for the $1 million.

   Rose said he doesn’t think the county will have the additional money, and also thinks the Alamance County Board of Commissioners will be more receptive to the request when it sees the results of zero-based budgeting and other measures Cox is putting into place. In zero-based budgeting, the budget is done “from scratch” each year instead of using the previous year’s budget as the starting point.

   Rose didn’t disagree the system could put the money to good use: “I can understand the need. I just can’t get over the reality that we have right now … the county doesn’t have the money.”

   Rose said after the vote that having failed to persuade the rest of the board, he wanted to show support for Cox and what she is doing for the system.

   School board member Patsy Simpson said the school system has put in place a long list of changes to save money, including the changes Cox has introduced, previous limits on travel and other expenses, and a more overall realistic approach to budgeting than when each school submitted a lengthy list of needs she describes humorously as “the Christmas wish-list book.”

   Simpson said the school board has voted to spend part of it fund balance on “necessary items that have been neglected for a long time.”

   Referring to sometimes conflicting reports about the county’s financial condition and revenue projections, Simpson said the county may end up in better shape than Rose expected.

   “How do we know?” she asked as to whether the county will be able to consider an increase.

   “If any other agency is given an increase, I hope we will be treated in the same manner,” she said.

   Among other board members, Brad Evans said the board and system administrators “have been good stewards for years.” Jackie Cole and Mary Erwin said it’s important for the system to focus on students’ needs, while Steve Van Pelt argued more education and training than ever are needed to prepare students to succeed.

   Allison Gant, executive director of Alamance Citizens for Education, spoke during the budget hearing to ask that the school board request that the county restore the $1.7 million cut from the current year’s budget.

   Because of an increase in the number of students attending school in the Alamance-Burlington system, Cox said, the amount spent per pupil would remain lower than it had been before the funding was cut.

   She said the system has attempted to be frugal through leaving positions unfilled and by other strategies such as printing fewer materials.

   The system has done less carpet-cleaning, mowing, and repairs of lockers and bleachers, along with other reduced maintenance, as a result of the $750,000 cut, she said.

   County commissioners interviewed by the Times-News have so far sounded skeptical there will be money available to increase school system funding beyond current levels.

   The board also voted Monday to ask the state to end the practice of “reversions,” in which school systems have been required in recent years to give back part of the money provided by the state.