City schools plan 2018-19 budget

By Jeff Linville -
Dr. Kim Morrison, right, school superintendent, gives a budget presentation to the city Board of Education, including members Phil Thacker, left, and Ben Cooke. - Jeff Linville | The News

Mount Airy City Schools is seeking an extra $57,000 in annual funding from the county as well as a big increase in capital outlay.

At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the city Board of Education, Dr. Kim Morrison, superintendent, laid out her staff’s preliminary budget for the upcoming 2018-19 fiscal year.

The school board heard of a couple of items of good news as well as some bad news for the coming year.

The first good news shared is that the average daily membership is going up 45 students for budgeting purposes. Much of school funding is based on the active enrollment in school districts, and Morrison said the city has had some children transfer into the city from neighboring systems.

Even though the kids are spread out to different grades, the increased enrollment could have the state provide Mount Airy one or possibly two extra teacher slots, she told the board.

Another piece of good news is that one of the big projects on the to-do list already had been approved by the county before the city even gets to its meeting with the commissioners May 1.

Finance Officer Sarah Bowen sent a memo to the board commissioners that the first phase of construction work on HVAC replacement at B.H. Tharrington Primary School came in well under budget.

Last year the county approved $255,600 for the project, but the work cost about $164,000. Bowen said the city schools had heard from the contractor that the next phase could be completed for $156,478.

“Since $91,600 is left from the original allocation, the increase needed would be $64,878,” said Bowen. “There will be sufficient lottery funds to cover the request when the next lottery allocation is deposited this spring.”

After some discussion, the county commissioners voted in favor of allocating the additional funds to finish the work.

Then Morrison listed some challenges for budgeting:

• 7.6-percent increase in retirement costs;

• 4-percent increase in hospitalization insurance;

• 3-percent increase in local matching dollars on state salaries;

• 5-percent increase in electricity costs;

• $48,000 less in low-wealth funding since 2015;

• $100,000 less in Title 1 funding since 2015.

“It’s not your normal cost of living,” Morrison said of all the rising expenses.

The school district tries to help subsidize costs as best it can so that it can still offer innovative programs, Morrison said. The high school has the internship with Richard Childress Racing.

The dual-language immersion program spreads to Jones Intermediate this year as it grows from kindergarten to third grade.

This would not be possible without the continued sponsorship of Eagle Carports, she said. The company never seeks any attention or adulation for this program, but the program wouldn’t exist without the owners’ generosity.

Still, this leaves the city needing a boost in funding from the county to cover the extra costs.

A year ago, Mount Airy, Elkin and Surry County school districts jointly asked for a jump in funding from $1,115 per pupil to $1,175. Elkin and Surry County noted that because of a drop in enrollment, they would need a rate of $1,143 just to break even with the year before.

After much discussion, the commissioners voted last June on a rate of $1,140.

This year the three districts are back with the same request for $1,175.

At the current rate, Mount Airy’s 1,624 students in the average daily membership count would amount to $1,851,360 from the county. The requested rate would put the figure at $1,908,200, a difference of $56,840.

That’s about what three of the big expenses are together, according to Morrison’s budget message.

“Locally, the salary, hospitalization and retirement increases are projected to be around $57,000,” she noted. The electric bill increase will push that higher.

In order to pay these extra expenses — and not ask the county for any more than last year — Morrison stated that her staff had to find more than $200,000 to cut out in order to create a balanced preliminary budget.


Morrison reminded the school board that last year, Mount Airy and Elkin sought a two-cent increase in supplemental tax (Surry County Schools doesn’t have one).

The county chose to go with a one-cent increase, so the two cities are coming back asking for that second penny again, she said.

While average daily membership increases could result in a teacher or two added, Morrison said, “The projected state budget calls for significant cuts into our already lean budget, which according to current legislation would result in five positions cut.”

Morrison said she is willing to earmark that extra penny for salaries, especially with tougher restrictions on class sizes coming up.

The long-discussed House Bill 90 means a drop in size over the next four years from an average of 20 students per class now to 16 for first grade, 17 for second and third grades, and 18 for kindergarten.

If more teachers are needed at Tharrington, it could mean hiring new people and/or transferring folks from Jones to Tharrington.

Repair Needs

Jason Dorsett, chief operations officer, walked the school board through capital outlay needs.

Several projects have been completed this school year, he said.

These include new siding on the high school field house, roof and wall repairs to the high school gym as well as a new sound system, painting and security cameras at the middle school, and washing of every school and athletic complex.

This also included some technology needs such as the purchase of art display screens for each school.

For the past few years, the county has been funding capital outlay needs at a rate of $110 per student, with big projects usually discussed outside of this fund, such as the rebuilding of the tennis courts at the high school.

This year’s special requests will include renovations and upgrades at the high school. Morrison said the roof is leaking in multiple spots, there is a drainage issue around one walkway, Wallace Shelton Stadium needs a handicap-accessible ramp, and the auditorium needs a wheelchair ramp or lift to the stage.

This and other needs comes to about $232,000.

Another special request will be the purchase of a handicap-accessible mini-bus at $62,000. The school’s other mini-bus is not handicap-accessible, Morrison said.

As for projects paid from the per-pupil fund, Dorsett mentioned sanding and refinishing the middle school gym floor, new carpeting and tile work in places at Jones, tile replacement in two bathrooms at Tharrington, outdoor security lighting behind the middle school, painting projects in the cafeteria and kitchen areas of Jones and the middle school, and installing extra security cameras at Jones.

With all these needs, school officials believe $110 isn’t enough.

Last year the three school districts asked for an increase from $110 to $150, but the county chose not to increase this fund, saying that the taxpayers were taking on some massive debt with bond issuances to be used primarily on the schools.

At 1,624 kids, $110 would be $178,640. What Mount Airy is seeking is $243,600, an increase of about $65,000.

According to Morrison’s budget message, this addition isn’t for extra repairs, but to use on technology.

“We request $40 per student to continue to support Google Learning Project and Future-Ready Technology plan,” she wrote. “This project allows students to have access to digital learning in a blended environment including virtual reality and augmented reality.

“We plan on anticipating where the job market is going concerning technology and ensuring our students are well equipped with the skills.”

The school districts will have a workshop with county commissioners on May 1. The county board usually finalizes the annual budget at a meeting in June.

Dr. Kim Morrison, right, school superintendent, gives a budget presentation to the city Board of Education, including members Phil Thacker, left, and Ben Cooke. Kim Morrison, right, school superintendent, gives a budget presentation to the city Board of Education, including members Phil Thacker, left, and Ben Cooke. Jeff Linville | The News

By Jeff Linville

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.