By Jesse Wood
Feb. 25, 2014. Representatives of Watauga County Schools spoke before the Watauga County Board of Commissioners last Friday during the boards annual retreat and outlined a preliminary budget and “possible increases” for the 2014-15 fiscal year.
In a memo to County Manager Deron Geouque, WCS administrators noted that the school system was asking for the “same level of current expense” in the amount of $12,063,334 and an additional $460,000 for capital outlay.
“While we have not completed our budget development process at this time and uncertainties continue with state funding, we believe this proposal will provide for present level of service to our students,” the memo states.
The Watauga County Board of Education and staff are meeting this week – Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday – to finalize its budget request.
WCS Finance Director Ly Marze outlined three “possible increases” that she wanted the commissioners to be aware of moving forward.
She mentioned that costs for health and retirement benefits will increase “across the board” by about 2.32 percent.
She mentioned that while the school system has used its fund balance to fund the one-to-one laptop initiative for the 2014-15 school year, WCS will ask the county for assistance “to meet the instructional technology needs of our students” in the years to come. The three-year program has a total investment figure of $2.29 million and will rollover into another similar program once the lease ends.
“Keep us in mind for future years. We may need to ask for assistance,” Marze said to the commissioners.
Marze also mentioned that it would like to be able to increase the local supplement as a retention or recruiting tool to either attract or retain quality employees in the school district. In several years, the supplement has increased just once.
“These are ideas for possible increases,” Marze said. “We just want to keep this at the forefront.”
The memo also outlined three projects – out of a list of long range capital needs – that have “now reached critical” status:
- Partial renovation of Parkway roof – $72,000
- Partial replacement of Bethel roof shingles: $35,500
- Electrical service upgrades to Green Valley, Bethel, Blowing Rock and Mabel: $240,750
The total estimates for the four projects is $348,250 and the school system proposed using $107,500 in N.C. Education Lottery funds and $180,562 in state ADM funds that requires a $60,188 local match, which the school district is requesting from the county.
“While this will address the highest priority needs four our facilities, we must also realize that our schools need funds for regular capital outlay budgets to purchase needed furniture and equipment. We would estimate $400,000 would be the amount needed for normal capital needs across the district in 2014-15,” the budget memo from the school district to the county states.
In November, interim WCS Supt. David Fonseca shared with the commissioners concerns that six schools would need to be replaced in the next 20 years or so. On the list for 2018 is Hardin Park; 2023 is Valle Crucis; 2028 is Bethel; 2033 is Green Valley; and 2038 is Blowing Rock and Parkway. That meeting was more of an informational session.
As it has in the past, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners noted that the WCS fund balance has increased considerably in the past few years from $3 million in the 2010-11 school year to $5,133,548 in the 2012-13 school year. The current figure has likely decreased because in November, members of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners told the school board to utilize its fund balance to pay for the one-to-one laptop initiative that the school board recently approved.
Commissioners have gone so far as to say the school system is “hoarding funds,” and in light of the growing fund balance, County Manager Deron Geouque recommended that the commissioners mirror what happens at the state and federal level with funding reverting back to the government if it isn’t spent. (Fonseca has adamantly denied in the past that the school system is “hoarding money” and is overfunded.)
But instead of keeping the money, Geouque said, the county would place those funds into a reserve to build up the school district’s capital improvement balance for future infrastructure needs.
While adding that he wasn’t trying to “micromanage” the school system, Geouque also recommended that the school system spend ADM funds from the state that have accumulated into a $469,000 pot before it spends any county money – where possible. Geouque mentioned that the state may take back those funds sooner or later because they are just sitting untouched. Commissioner Billy Kennedy agreed.
“That’s kind of the way we need to think to protect the county from what the state is doing,” Kennedy said.