By Jesse Wood
After several budget retreats and work sessions, the Watauga County Board of Education will vote on its proposed 2015-16 budget for county funds at Monday’s school board meeting.
The 2015-16 proposed budget for county funds stands at $15,268,279 and is a 14.98 percent increase over the 2014-15 adopted budget, according to spreadsheets in tonight’s meeting packet, which also separated the budget in two sections: current expense and capital outlay funds.
The $13.1 million proposed budget of county funds in the “current expense fund” for 2015-16 (which doesn’t include capital outlay funds) represents a nearly 9 percent increase over the similar budget that was adopted at this time last year.
The biggest line-item increases in the budget include $263,500 for curriculum supplies/materials and $137,709 for supplements (certified staff, classified staff, school administrators, directors and child nutrition).
The proposed “capital outlay fund” for 2015-16 budget is $1.8-million, which is a $911,755 increase. Line items in this section include $280,000 for upgrades to electrical service, $285,000 for LED lights and $728,654 for district-wide technology.
In an April 13 memo to County Manager Deron Geouque and the Watauga County Board of Commissioners, which will vote on appropriations to the school district in May and June, WCS Finance Director Ly Marze noted that “many uncertainties” at the state level still exist. She said, for example, that pay for teachers on the “first tier” of the teacher salary scale is expected to increase from $33,000 to $35,000 and that the driver education funding for the state is likely to end.
“While we need to meet these aforementioned as well as other state mandates, we are also being very cognizant of planning ahead for recurring and replacement costs at the local level,” Marze wrote. “As such we have built into our budget request the need for incremental funding for our district’s instructional technology, curricular supplies and materials, and school facility needs. It is our fiscal responsibility that we plan for these necessary recurring costs in a manageable and efficient manner, and the budget presented is representative of these requests.”
When the school board and administrators met with the county commissioners for a budget retreat in March, WCS Supt. Scott Elliott noted that the school system would request an increase in local funding because of “expected cost increases and to meet other significant needs.”
In March, Elliott noted the increase in teacher salaries, health and retirement benefits, local supplements, instructional technology needs, instructional resource needs, cuts to driver’s education funding and the lack of enough funds for a thriving Pre-K program.
Republican Commissioner Perry Yates criticized the school system for its 1:1 laptop three-year leasing program that costs about $800,000 each year. When the lease expires, the school system will have to enter a new lease agreement or purchase laptops to continue the 1:1 initiative.
Elliott, who didn’t work in the district at the time the school system entered the contract, seemed to agree and said he was looking at cheaper alternatives.
When discussing the need for a new Hardin Park school in the future, County Manager Deron Geouque noted that current county funds put into the school system’s capital improvement plan are to maintain what’s currently in place – and not construction of new schools in the future.
WCS spokesman Marshall Ashcraft noted that this budget proposal, which will be presented to the commissioners as a formal budget request, could possibly change at tonight’s meeting if the school board members feel the need to tweak the proposal.
Ashcraft said that county funds accounted for about 29 percent of last year’s budget, which as of the latest budget amendment currently stands at nearly $43.3 million. Last year, the state provided more than $25 million to the district’s budget.
Until the commissioners and the N.C. General Assembly adopts a budget this summer, the school system won’t know exactly how much money it has to work with in the 2015-16 year.
See the meeting packet and relevant budget spreadsheets here.
See the county’s funding of WCS in recent years below: