With about half its maintenance budget spent for the year, the school system is carefully watching its budget as it awaits bids on some remaining large projects.
“We added several projects at the last minute last year,” Kacee Harris, chief financial officer, told the Cumberland County Board of Education during its Jan. 18 work session. “We only have two ways to pay for the engineering costs. We can pay for it out of the project costs … But I’m also watching some savings in projects that come in under budget. I don’t want to run out and spend that, because we may very well need it to cover engineering.”
The budget includes about $100,000 for repairs that crop up during the school year. Other projects come from the school system’s preventative maintenance schedule, such as tile replacement at schools, parking lot paving and HVAC replacement.
There have been some savings. The gym floor at Stone Elementary, for example, cost about $18,000 instead of the $25,000 budgeted, and at South, the parking lot paving, scheduled for spring break, will cost $126,000 instead of $185,000.
But the school system is still waiting on bids for the renovation at Martin Elementary, with $750,000 budgeted. The board also budgeted $150,000 for updates at Stone Memorial High School to comply with an Office of Civil Rights audit and $150,000 to construct a new Transition Academy on the campus of The Phoenix School.
The board approved contracts for engineering and architectural services during its Jan. 23 meeting.
If those projects come in under budget, remaining costs can be transferred to the engineering costs line of the budget, which included only $20,000 for the year while Harris estimates total engineering costs will be about $100,000.
“My hope is that will be enough to cover those costs,” Harris said.
Director of Schools Janet Graham said the state requires engineers and architectural services for the projects.
The board must approve any budget amendments, and construction costs and engineering costs are paid out of different budget lines. The state also requires no line in the budget ends the year with a deficit.
Harris said she hopes projects will be completed before the fiscal year ends June 30, or complete enough to allow the school system to set up an account to pay for the project using this budget year. That prevents needing to roll money forward into the next budget year, which can cause confusion on how much money the school system is budgeting.
“With that said, the auditor could disagree,” Harris said.
Boston said, “Well it’s very confusing when you’ve got $4 million budget, but $800,000 of that is from last year.”
Graham said, “We really try to work with our vendors to tell them we need this work done by June 30. They’ve been really good about coming in during times when there are few people here. But weather often dictates that.”
The school system is on track to spend $8,728 to test drinking water sources at schools for lead, with testing scheduled at Pleasant Hill and Homestead elementary schools. The cost does not include the cost of repairs.
The state requires all drinking water sources to be tested for lead in schools built before Jan. 1, 1998.
“This is an unfunded mandate,” Graham said. “We’re not finished and we’re closing in at $10,000.”
Testing required the replacement of three sinks in the boys bathroom at Pine View, the removal of a sink at Cumberland County High School, replacement of a sink in the library at North Cumberland Elementary and replacement of three sinks and one water fountain at Martin Elementary.
“I think we’ve been very fortunate in Cumberland County that we haven’t had more issues,” Graham said. “The first one at Pine View, we wouldn’t have had to test because bathroom sinks are not considered drinking water. But we changed out some pieces replaced valves, and it was all OK in the retest.”
Testing costs have ranged from $590 at Pine View Elementary to $2,060 at CCHS.
“We didn’t know the financial impact of this at budget time,” Graham said, adding school systems across the state were struggling with the costs.
While the law exempts Brown Elementary, Jim Inman, 1st District representative, asked Graham to test the school.
“We had issues whenever I was there,” Inman said, adding a sub-contractor had installed galvanized pipe instead of the copper pipe required by the plans. “It made the water orange. But they did come in and they replaced all the galvanized pipe.
“But I still would feel more comfortable if we had at least some testing at Brown.”
In other discussion, Inman questioned the status of a facility access program that allows the public to use recreational facilities at schools. He said he remembered the track at Cumberland County High School once was filled with people during the early evening hours as people used the space to walk.
Graham said at one time the track and tennis courts at CCHS had been left open for the community to use the facilities, but vandalism and misuse led to those places being locked when school personnel were not present.
Several years ago, a key system was developed. People in the community could pay $10 and sign an agreement saying they would not loan the key or give it to someone else and that they would abide by certain rules, like not using wheels on the track surface.
That program is still in place, Graham said.
She was unsure if such a program had ever been in use at Stone Memorial High School, but added it would not be difficult to share the specifics among the two schools.
Inman also questioned having playgrounds open for the community after schools were closed for the day. Those facilities are often paid for with donations raised by the Parent-Teacher Organization or other donation efforts, and not tax funds, Graham said. There is a concern regarding liability on the playground structures.
The board will consult with attorney Earl Patton on risks to the school system in keeping those facilities available.
Board members attending the work session were Inman, Boston, 5th District Representative Tony Brock, 6th District Representative Tom Netherton and 7th District Representative Becky Hamby.