The latest estimate in state education funding adds another $71,000 to the Cumberland County schools budget, bringing revenue for the coming year to $55.5 million.
"We tasked our attendance supervisor, student information clerk, special education and career and technical departments, and attendance clerks in the schools to really dig into that data and try to make sure we had tracked and counted each one of those special population groups," Chief Financial Officer Kacee Harris said during the June 27 meeting of the Cumberland County Board of Education. "They found some that had been, for whatever reason, not counted. We appreciate the hard work they did there."
The school system also anticipates a $5.79 million ending fund balance for the 2018-’19 fiscal year. Though the fiscal year closed June 30, the final numbers are not yet calculated.
The fund balance benefited from some projects being delayed, like the roof project at Cumberland County High School.
The county also collected more property and sales tax revenue than it had budgeted, and those funds added to the bottom line. The county collected $9.1 million in property tax revenue for the school system, based on the tax allocations approved last fall against a budget of $8.9 million. Sales tax also came in above expectations, with a projected collection of $9.6 million over a budgeted $9.3 million.
“Keep shopping local,” Josh Stone, 4th District representative, said during a special-called meeting Tuesday night. “This is the first time in my seven years this has happened.”
The budget anticipates using $3.7 million of the fund balance for one-time projects, leaving $291,214 over the required 3% minimum reserve in the budget.
The board had previously approved its 2019-’20 budget, but the county budget committee asked the board to look at the additional revenue it would be getting this year and how that might affect the board’s additional request for almost $400,000 in one-time funding.
The new budget includes funding for all of those projects, including purchasing an additional school bus, correcting accessibility issues at Stone Memorial High School and constructing a transition academy at the Phoenix School.
The budget also includes the 2.5% salary and wage increase for all school personnel. New positions include a kindergarten through fifth-grade teacher and assistant at the alternative school, a teacher and assistant to serve 3-year-olds identified for special education services, and an additional English as a Second Language teacher.
It includes funding for the third year of a one-to-one technology initiative, purchasing a Chromebook computer for each fifth-grade and ninth-grade student. It also includes an estimated $750,000 renovation at Martin Elementary School to update restrooms, paint lockers and replace some tile, windows and doors.
Stone said the budget committee had not made a recommendation on the budget, anticipating some discussion on the $291,214 remaining above the fund balance.
Teresa Boston, 8th District representative, moved to approve the budget as presented, supported by Rebecca Hamby, 7th District representative.
Stace Karge, 9th District representative, asked the board to consider funding approximately $11,000 for school libraries with an additional $1 per student to the school library book fund and 50 cents to the school library supply fund.
School libraries receive these funds based on the number of students enrolled. The budget did have $120,000 budgeted for library books at a rate of $16 per student.
Karge said, “I know there is discussion that they [librarians] take it to their principals, but I know that some of them are hesitant and some of the principals I spoke to were also hesitant to use those fund balances.”
At the budget committee meeting last week, Harris had reported each school had a fund balance from either unused capital outlay funds or money raised through fundraisers.
Karge said, “I’m looking at $11,000 that would go straight to academia to directly help our students.”
Many of the needs brought by the school librarian association included technology needs, specifically to replace outdated computers that operate the library circulation programs. Under the per-student funding model, each school library would receive an additional $1.50 per student to be used on books and supplies.
Stone noted much of the surplus the school system has in the coming budget is due to one-time overages in tax collections, with no guarantee of future collections.
He added the school system was still spending $3.7 million over its revenue in the proposed budget.
Director of Schools Janet Graham said, “That was just a gift from having such a good sales tax year.”
Karge said, “Which is why this would be such a great granting of this request now. It would get the computers they need and get their libraries back up where they need to be.”
She said the school system may not have such financial good luck in future years.
Graham said she had contacted all principals regarding library needs as well as needs of other special areas within the schools, such as art and music. Most principals said they had not been made aware of needs or that their libraries were self supporting through fundraisers, book fairs and golf tournaments.
Pleasant Hill Elementary purchased a new computer, North Cumberland Elementary reported a slow computer used for circulation and Homestead Elementary had a request for an additional computer, Graham said.
“We know that we have technology that is old in some of our schools,” Graham said.
She tasked the technology department to check on the library computers to ensure the hardware supported the necessary software programs.
“They have some concerns about that,” Graham said.
The librarian’s computer is included in schoolwide teacher computer replacements, which are cycled across the county. Librarians have said that provides a laptop computer, but they need a desktop computer for circulation needs.
“They don’t supply them with two,” Graham said.
Rob Safdie, 2nd District representative, said he understood teachers sometimes became frustrated asking for equipment and supplies because their requests were not funded.
“It’s frustrating when a teacher says, ‘I need this but I’m not going to ask because I know it’s going to be turned down,’” Safdie said. “By not asking, then it’s very frustrating for the administrator because it’s the responsibility of the teachers to brave it up and make that extra move.”
Safdie noted schools all head money available in their fund balances to take care of these school-level needs. He asked for Graham to find out if librarians had made needs known to their schools and those needs not funded.
Graham said, “Principals are the head of their schools and are the responsible parties.”
She added the budget includes $10,000 per school for capital outlay projects, returned to that amount after a reduction last year.
“I think this has brought the needs to our principals and we’re going to have discussion about making sure this group is included,” Graham said.
Stone noted the board also needed to decide how to proceed with reroofing F Wing at CCHS, at a cost of $170,000. That portion of the project was removed from the current roofing project due to cost.
Safdie also noted the $500,000 in additional revenue is not “recurring” funds and cannot be used to fund recurring expenses, like additional pay raises.
The budget was unanimously approved, with Tom Netherton, 6th District representative, absent.
The board will present its budget to the county budget committee July 9 at 4:30 p.m.
During its regular meeting June 27, the board also approved pay scales for the 2019-'20 school year which reflect the 2.5% salary increase approved.
Harris said the starting salary for a teacher with a master's degree was increased by $26 to meet state salary minimum requirements.
The payscales were unanimously approved with Stone and Tony Brock, 5th District representative, absent for that meeting.