DOBSON — Surry County Schools officials are requesting nearly $900,000 for locally funded pay supplements in addition to an increase in regular operational funding.
However, unless House Bill 13 gets passed soon by the General Assembly, the district says it will also need to hire 17 additional teachers and other expenses related to class size.
Thursday evening the Surry County Board of Commissioners heard the budget requests of all three of the county’s public school systems and Surry Community College.
Operational expenses, termed “current expenses” are paid by the county to each of the three school districts on a per-pupil basis using enrollment numbers termed the “average daily membership” (ADM).
In the 2016-17 fiscal year the county board increased its expenses allotment from $1,090 to $1,115 per Surry County pupil served by each district. As part of its 2017-18 request, all three school districts are asking county commissioners to consider increasing the rate to $1,175 per pupil — partly because school attendance has gone down.
With 7,957 Surry County students served, the net result of such an increase — once the decrease in student population is considered — would be about $251,000 in additional funds from the county.
Dr. Travis Reeves, school superintendent, said the district’s ADM dropped by 200 students. Thus, an increase to $1,143 per student would be necessary to keep the district at the same level of funding it is receiving in the current fiscal year.
Though ADM might be down, it doesn’t necessarily mean the school district can make cuts to its staff.
“That doesn’t come in nice little bundles,” said Reeves, explaining that students don’t leave the district in groups of ten or 20 per grade level. That may amount to only one less student per grade level at its 19 campuses.
The loss of students will mean a $1.2 million cut in state funding for the system as well, said Reeves.
On the local level, it would mean a loss of $226,000 in expense funds from the county if the rate stays at $1,115 per student.
Reeves also noted more than $500,000 in funds will be diverted from his district to area charter schools. Another $17,000 will go toward funding the educations of would-be Surry County Schools students who are enrolled in virtual charter academy’s with “virtually no accountability.”
Surry County Schools provides a local supplement to the state dollars used to pay the salaries of its employees, explained Reeves. In past years, that supplement has been 3 percent of the salary paid by the state. However, neighboring school systems have higher supplements, most of which are 5.0 or 5.5 percent.
Reeves said Surry County Schools must remain competitive with neighboring districts if it is to retain good teachers and quality employees.
To Commissioner Van Tucker’s question, Assistant Superintendent Chuck Graham noted the district has just a 4.6 percent turnover rate, which includes retirements. The rate is the second lowest in the state.
For the purposes of comparison, Assistant County Manager Sandy Snow said Surry County government’s annual employee turnover rate is 11 percent.
Reeves said his district would need an additional allotment of about $849,000 to bring the district in line with others in the area — to a 5-percent local supplement.
The district is requesting another $46,000 for increases to its extra-curricular supplements, paid to those who coach sports or lead other extra-curricular activities like band, chorus and ROTC. Other than a couple of sports, most of these supplements haven’t been increased in a decade, noted Reeves.
On Friday, Surry County Schools finance officer Donna Bryant said the supplemental pay request is in addition to the increase in current expenses funding. In years past, the county district has used the current expenses funding to provide the supplements itself.
In all, operational funding sought by the district from the county exceeds $10.2 million. The increases to the current expenses funding and the supplemental dollars would push the request a little more than $1.1 million above the operational funding provided by the county in its 2016-17 fiscal year budget.
A matter of what some believe to be an unfunded mandate from Raleigh could have huge implications on the district’s budget.
Reeves said House Bill 13 saw unanimous passage in the N.C. House of Representatives. However, the N.C. Senate has yet to pass the bill.
The bill would offer a compromise on maximum class sizes set forth in the 2015 legislation. That legislation requires schools to maintain an average of 18 students in kindergarten, 16 students in first grade, and 17 students in second and third grade classes. For any one class, the maximum allowed is 21 in kindergarten, 19 in first grade and 20 in second and third grade, down from 24 currently allowed.
If House Bill 13 doesn’t pass, Reeves said the district will need to hire 17 additional teachers, a cost of more than $1 million for which state legislators have failed to provide funding. Nine mobile classrooms, at cost of about $37,000, would also be required. A few teacher assistants could also be useful.
HB 13 would eliminate the need for mobile classrooms and reduce the need for new teachers to five instead of 17, Reeves said last month.
“We have looked at our budget sideways, frontwards and backwards,” said Reeves in explaining everything is on the table when it comes to the measures the district will have to take should HB 13 not pass in time for the start of the fall school year.
Commissioner Larry Phillips claimed N.C. Sen. Shirley Randleman had pointed to legislation passed and signed into law in 2015 which provided an additional $26 million to claim the legislature had funded the moves necessary to meet new requirements.
However, Reeves said in Wake County alone, the new class sizes would require an additional $27 million for teacher salaries.
“I will keep you abreast of the situation, but I want to reserve the right to come back to this board and ask for emergency funding,” said Reeves. “We will do all we can, but we might need help.”
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.