DOBSON — School officials warned the county Board of Education Monday night that the school district could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in the upcoming fiscal year.
At the same time that the Surry County Schools board was meeting Monday, the Surry County Board of Commissioners also was convening just a mile away.
County Manager Chris Knopf presented elected officials with his recommendations on funding for the 2017-18 fiscal year that begins July 1. That plan could end up costing the county school district about $226,000, cautioned school personnel.
Dr. Travis Reeves, school superintendent, and Donna Bryant, district finance officer, told the school board about Knopf’s plan, as previewed in The Mount Airy News, as well as the uncertainty coming from the state General Assembly, which has yet to finalize its own budget.
While several big projects are in the works over the next few years, Knopf is suggesting to commissioners that per-student funding for schools be kept at the same rate for next year: $1,115.
The problem with this, Reeves told commissioners two months ago, is that Surry County’s average daily attendance dropped this year. His district has more than 200 less students than a year ago. Keeping the formula the same would result in a net loss of $226,000 compared to what the county gave the schools this current year.
If these student losses were in neat, little pockets of students in a school or two, then Reeves said he could cut a few unnecessary teachers and save that money. Instead, this amounts to more like one less child per classroom spread around 19 campuses. There are no savings to be found in cutting teachers.
As board member Clark Goings pointed out two months ago, it still costs pretty much the same amount to keep the lights turned on and to keep the HVAC running with one less child per classroom.
A large portion of state funding also is based on average attendance, so an even bigger hit could come on that end, depending on what happens with the state budget, Reeves warned. Two months ago he told commissioners the per-pupil formula could mean $1.2 million less from the state.
The General Assembly is expected to have a final budget on the floor for a vote by June 15, Reeves told the school board. Hopefully, he said, between now and the passing of a final county budget, Reeves can speak again with local officials.
In the meantime, Reeves said he and Bryant and other central office staff have been looking at ways to reduce expenses. This includes identifying jobs that can be reduced through attrition, either by teaching assistants or other support personnel resigning or retiring.
The district will still have to post openings for jobs it can’t do without, but in other spots the superintendent and the board will have to make some tough choices on where to make cuts, he suggested.
Then next year looms the threat of House Bill 13 forcing the district to hire as many as 17 teachers to meet reduced class size restrictions for kindergarten to third grade.
Bryant said she had been keeping up with the proposed budgets presented by both the state Senate and House. She went over some of the differences in what that could mean for salaries for teachers and other employees.
The Senate version doesn’t appear to have any raise for beginning teacher pay, said Bryant. Nor for teachers with 25 years or more of experience. The average overall increase would be about 3.5 percent, she said.
The House version would have raises for all experience levels, with increases around the 6-percent mark.
The House version also offers slightly better raises for non-certified employees and assistant principals, according to Bryant’s research.
It could be another week and a half before local officials know what the state decides.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.