School budget cuts less than expected in state budget

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Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

Now that the state has passed its biennial budget, the Macon County School system has a better grasp on how its budget will shape up during the 2017-18 school year. Macon County Schools finance director Angie Cook updated the board of education last week, saying that now that a final state budget has been approved, the county is in a better financial position heading into the next school year than originally expected.

Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin noted that the state’s budget still means funding cuts for the school system, but the cuts aren’t as bad as originally anticipated.

Funding complications are less about the budgeted dollars this year, and more about policy levels on the state level that take away local districts flexibility to spend state dollars to keep operations running. In the past, school officials could apply for waivers for programs such as AIG (Academically Intellectually Gifted) and LEP (Limited English Proficiency). Those waivers allowed local districts to “trade” positions to ultimately fund more teachers.

For example, the state funds the AIG program based on four percent of the total Average Daily Membership for the district, which equals 4.5 teachers or $293,308. The school system would then take the $293,308 and apply for a waiver that would allow those funds to be used to pay the salaries of beginning teachers, which have the lowest salaries, allowing more teachers to be funded. Without the ability to apply for that waiver, the district will ultimate experience a $63,000 funding reduction.

The same waiver was used for LEP teachers, and without the waivers, the LEP program will mean a $71,000 reduction in position funding for the district. While the cuts are less than originally anticipated, the district still has to grapple with the difference.

Macon County also lost $70,000 in funding this year based on funding that was mandated to be sent to charter schools. The waivers, paid with a $41,000 reduction to central office staff and a reduction in federal timber fund dollars, which has traditionally been $150,000-$200,000 annually but was reduced to $99,000 this year, has the school system evaluating every aspect of personnel and operations to make the budget balance, while still providing a quality education for students.

Dr. Baldwin did commend the state legislature for securing an additional $1.4 million for the district through the Isolated Schools Funding, which will provide additional teachers for Highlands and Nantahala Schools.

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