City schools finalize budget plans

By Jeff Linville -

The state budget presented to the governor by the General Assembly will give a pay boost to most teachers, but would cut funding in other job areas.

That’s part of the summary the Mount Airy Board of Education heard this week in trying to finalize budget plans for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

The school district put its plan in effect Saturday, but had to do so with expectations of what the state is doing since the final budget had not been signed by the governor when the school board met this week. The governor has since vetoed the bill, but the General Assembly has voted to override the veto.

The proposed budget calls for a 3.3-percent raise to teacher salaries, said Dr. Kim Morrison, school superintendent. Beginning teachers and those with the most experience won’t see that increase, but the ones in the middle will see a boost. First-year teachers received a $5,000 raise two years ago, to $35,000, which largely left out teachers with just a few years experience.

There is a substantial increase for principals and assistant principals, Morrison said. In fact, she said a couple of education agencies had tabbed this the biggest increase in a decade for these roles.

Morrison said assistant principal pay would just affect the high school and middle school —those positions at Jones Intermediate and Tharrington Primary are on the teacher pay scale.

Unfortunately, as the state gives money in one pot, it takes money away in another, she said. For the fifth year in a row, she said, the state has reduced funding for central office personnel.

“We cut one position last year, and we cut a half-position this year,” she said. The state expects school districts to fill out a mountain of paperwork to turn in every year, but is reducing the number of people who work on it.

“I’m not sure how they expect all these reports to get done,” she said. Some of the workload might get passed down to the school level, if the central office can’t handle it all.

Another big concern is House Bill 13, which wasn’t repealed, but only pushed off a year. This new law will require smaller class sizes for kindergarten to third grade. Both city and county school districts have said this will require the hiring of additional teachers to spread out the students.

Morrison said the state legislature is assuring educators that it is setting aside big money for next year in anticipation of enacting HB 13.

County Budget

On a local level, the three school districts didn’t get quite what they wanted from the county Board of Commissioners, but the city schools still came out ahead.

Surry County Schools had said it needed the per-pupil allotment to increase from $1,115 to $1,143 just to maintain the same level of total funding that it received in 2016-17, due to a decrease in student enrollment.

The county commissioners agreed to $1,140, which was slightly less than what the county needed to break even. For the city, however, this amounted to a slight increase.

Morrison said the district would get about $19,000 more from the county by that per-pupil amount.

The school district also asked for a two-cent increase in a municipal school tax. The county agreed to one cent, which Morrison said would amount to about $90,000.

Between those two sources, the additional $109,000 would be enough to pay for two full-time positions, she said.

A big-ticket item in the city’s budget request was the overhaul of the high school tennis courts. Issues with the court surface have been discussed by local officials since 2013, but no definitive funding has been set aside for the work until now.

Last year, the city schools asked for $225,000 from the county to go with a $50,000 commitment the city Board of Commissioners made. That would have covered both the high school and middle school courts.

However, with the high school a much greater priority, the school district came back this time with only a request for the high school. The county agreed to $150,000 to go with Mount Airy’s $50,000, Morrison told the school board.

The tennis courts aren’t just for the high school students, but are kept available to the general public when the teams aren’t using them, noted Dorsett. Therefore, the high school wants the facilities to be as top notch as they can be with the money budgeted.

The county commissioners also voted to fund HVAC work at Tharrington Primary.

This will save money on repairs and be more energy-efficient, said Dorsett.

Teacher Days

The school system isn’t just asking for more money, however. The schools are looking for ways to save, too.

Morrison said the district saved a great deal of money over the past year with big changes in teacher attendance.

Student attendance has been good, so the district would like to see teacher attendance just as good, when possible, Morrison and Dorsett said.

Teachers do have lives and families, so they may miss time with injuries, illnesses, maternity leave, but otherwise the attendance record for the past year has been good, they reported.

Teachers understand they can’t use annual staff development days when students are in school, and they know they can’t use sick days to take a vacation, said Morrison.

If a teacher has to miss a lot of time, there are ways for the staff to switch around and cover for each other rather than just calling in a substitute and paying extra salaries, she said. Changes put in place have allowed the district to save about $65,000, she told the school.

And, she added, it’s better to have a certified teacher leading a class than a substitute filling in.

By Jeff Linville

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.

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