By Jesse Wood
Nov. 18, 2013. The Watauga County Board of Education and the Watauga County Board of Commissioners met last Thursday to discuss long-term budget plans and building needs for the county’s school system.
During the brief introduction, Watauga County Schools interim Supt. David Fonseca noted that the school board and central administration staff wasn’t here to secure funding or argue about money, curriculum or books. (The meeting, however, wasn’t argument free.)
“But just our way of sharing with you where we are as far as our needs,” Fonseca said.
A packet from the school board was presented to the commissioners showing long-term funding projections for technology, instruction, human resources and capital needs for school facilities. The funding timeline begins during the 2013-14 school year and ends after the 2026-27 school year.
The projected costs would be on top of last year’s $12-million budget.
For technology, the school system is projecting additional costs of $1,108,373, which includes funds for leasing new computers, tablets for students as young as kindergartners, wireless replacement plan for existing technologies, IT support, fees for state-mandated technology and more. The instruction category includes a $500,000 increase each year for new textbooks. Each year, a different subject or course would be addressed such as math in 2014-15 and science in 2015-16.
Human resource costs are projected to jump from $70,000 in 2013-14 to $170,000 in 2014-15 to $415,000 in 2015-16 before stabilizing at $594,000 in 2018-19. The human resource costs next year are attributed to an additional art teacher and a MS advanced math teacher. The following includes a new foreign language teacher and other staff. See diagram below for more thorough description.
In all, the requests amounted to roughly an additional $2 million on top of the current budget.
Chair Nathan Miller asked if the school system was going to come to the commissioners and request that additional amount or if it would utilize its unrestricted fund balance which had more $4 million in the coffers last year.
“If you are amassing almost $6 million, then we are overfunding you because you aren’t spending the money,” Miller said.
Fonseca maintained that the school system wasn’t “hoarding money” and that it wasn’t currently overfunded.
“We are utilizing the money we are being given in the best possible way,” Fonseca said.
After County Manager Deron Geouque clarified the question, WCS Finance Director Ly Marze said that the fund balance would be nearly exhausted after two years to fund these projections without completely depleting the unrestricted fund balance.
As for capital needs, Fonseca noted that one of the major concerns of Watauga County Schools is how to replace four buildings between 2028 and 2038. Bethel was built in 1930 and is being slated for a projected 2028 replacement. Green Valley was built in 1952 and is slated for a projected 2033 replacement. Blowing Rock, built in 1928, and Parkway, built in 1952, are both slated for a projected 2038 replacement. A diagram provided by the school system also projects a needed replacement of Hardin Park, which was built in 1973, for 2018 and Valle Crucis, which was built in the 1930s, for 2023.
Dennis Ray, director of maintenance for WCS, clarified that doors wouldn’t open on, say, 2018. That is when the planning for the building and the land would begin with the goal of doors opening for school five years later.
Commissioner Perry Yates noted that he wanted to know what the plan is for the buildings and real estate. Other commissioners also noted that they would like to see demographic projections for the communities in question – data that the staff didn’t have present at the meeting. All of these details, Miller said, would help the commissioners make informed decisions on these issues in the future.
“I appreciate you presenting the plan. It is a good plan for the future. Just like any plan I don’t take it at face value,” Miller said. “I ask hard questions because we are talking about the people’s money. There are trends and spending, obviously, that I disagree with. That’s fine. Nobody agrees with me all the time.”
In the end, though, he did acknowledge the “superb” school system in Watauga County.
Before the meeting adjourned, the commissioners gave their two-cents worth on the controversial novel “The House of Spirits” that is currently being reviewed by a WCS committee. See an article on that here.