Macon County Schools approve budget, begin planning for next year

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Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

Macon County School officials approved the 2016-17 school year budget last Tuesday night during their monthly meeting held at Highlands School. District Finance Director Angie Cook presented the district with a proposed budget that includes a county allocation, a state allocation, and a projected federal planning allotment. The approved budget is subject to some adjustments, as the district is required to approve a budget, but Macon County Schools only has a planning allotment to follow in terms of federal dollars the district will receive. The federal government isn’t expected to pass its actual budget until October.

This year, Macon County Schools budget totaled $43,165,737, an increase over last year’s $42,047,840 budget. The district’s local and state budgets both increased, while the projected federal allocation was decreased by $57,140.

On the local level, the Macon County School system saw a $200,000 decrease in the appropriation allocated by county commissions for operating expenses, although the county increased the school system’s capital outlay fund by $200,000. According to Cook, due to the county’s $200,000 reduction in operating funds, although state dollars were increased, the district had to use a portion of the school system’s fund balance to make up the difference.

In the 2015-16 school year, the school system appropriated $1,125,976.33 out of the fund balance to cover the local current expense.  Cook informed board members that for the 2016-17 school year that was increased to $1,297,055.44,

Dollars from the district’s fund balance are often restricted, meaning they can only be spent on specific programs within the school system. Of the $1,297,055.44 in fund balance being spent,  $156,063.83 will be for medicaid reimbursement in the district, $115,191.88 to operate the district’s Pre-K programs, $55,316.59 for the district’s robotics program and $243,633.14 for the district’s VIP after school program. An additional $726,850 was appropriated out of the fund balance to fund properties set by the board of education in February to maintain classrooms and other services throughout the Macon County School district.  Those priorities include a new technology upgrade for new projects, computers, and iPads costing $183,350; and new teaching, teacher assistant or school personnel positions at East Franklin Elementary, Franklin High School, Macon Middle School, South Macon Elementary School, Mountain View Intermediate, and Iotla Valley School.

While the district voted to approve the current year’s budget Dr. Baldwin also cautioned the board to prepare for additional funding shortfalls based on impending legislation.

“Previous legislation allowed school systems to exceed the funded per-pupil ratio by three to four students,” explained Dr. Baldwin. “For instance, school systems in N.C. are provided funding in kindergarten classrooms sufficient to provide one teacher for every 18 students in 2015-16.  We are allowed to exceed this ratio by four students.”

Based on current legislation, beginning in 2017-18, school systems will lose that flexibility.  “Class sizes will not be allowed to exceed the funded ratio,” said Baldwin. “School systems across N.C. paid for art, music and PE teachers with the funding received for those students that exceeded the funding ratio. Schools cannot simply eliminate PE, art and music.  These courses and their curricula provide essential support to brain development and overall learning.  It would also be very difficult to provide the necessary teacher planning time that is mandated by state law without these positions. As a result, school systems will need to eliminate positions or receive additional funding to lower class sizes to the funded ratios. In our case, this amounts to seven or eight positions.”

The legislation would mean a difference of $400,000 for Macon County Schools. Dr. Baldwin noted that the district has already reduced the budget through attrition as much as they can, and without the ability to levy a tax, the district will be in a bind next budget year.

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