By Jesse Wood
Feb. 25, 2013. At the Watauga County Board of Commissioners annual retreat on Friday, the board heard budget matters from the staff of Watauga County Schools.
Superintendent David Kafitz outlined five funding “needs” for the school system in next year’s budget.
In a memo, dated Friday, to County Manager Deron Geouque, Kafitz “humbly” asked to maintain at least the same level of funding for operating expenses as the commissioners granted WCS for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which was nearly $11.9 million.
However, the memo continued: “However, given cost increases and significant needs as outlined in the list below it is possible that [WCS] will need to consider requesting an increase in local funding.”
- Unemployment insurance increase: Schools face a increase in charges due to the deficit in the state unemployment pool
- Salary increase: N.C. Department of Public Instruction indicated that employees will receive an average salary increase between 1.6 to 2 percent, which would lead to increased costs for locally-paid positions
- Increase in health and retirement benefits: cost of these expected to increase a combined 6 percent
- Local supplemental increase: Due to potential turnover of aging employees, an increase in the local supplement would be a strong recruitment/retention tool
Noting that North Carolina owes $2.8 billion to the federal government for loans used to pay unemployment benefits and noting that teachers are a “large part” of the employee base in the state, Kafitz said that school systems “are looking at tripling the amount they are looking to have to spend on unemployment insurance.”
WCS Finance Director Ly Marze said that to cover that “unknown,” she has budgeted $180,000 for unemployment insurance.
Kafitz mentioned that WCS is “obliged” to follow any state initiated raises, which this year the NCDPI indicated would be a 1.6 to 2 percent increase, for locally paid positions.
Chairman Nathan Miller asked, “Didn’t that happen last year?”
Geouque responded that last year NCDPI initiated a raise of 1.2 percent and asked Marze if she had a figure tallied for how that increase would effect the county. She did not.
The discussion turned to technology shortly thereafter.
Kafitz mentioned that new “student information systems” are coming online starting in August. He mentioned those systems include an individual instructional system, a curriculum resource warehouse and testing portals for students to take tests online.
“I say all this to tell you, our teachers, particularly in K-8 schools …what our teachers have access to do their day-to-day work, understand, we can’t even take attendance in a classroom without a computer,” Kafitz said, alluding to a request for laptops for all teachers in K-8, before Miller interjected.
“They can take attendance without a computer,” Miller said, adding that teachers can take attendance on paper and have it relayed to the office.
Kafitz mentioned that with staffing ratios in the office that would place an “overwhelming burden” on the staff.
“Can it be done? Yes,” Kafitz said. “Is it optimal? No. Would I want that to happen in a place like my high school? No.”
Commissioner Billy Kennedy mentioned that all teachers and students in the high school have laptops, so it would be a non-issue for the high school.
Commissioner John Welch asked about a shift, coming down from the state, to do all intergraded tests online.
Kafitz responded that that would occur in 2014-15.
“So basically, every school K-8 that administers some kind of intergrade tests would have to be done on a computer,” Welch noted.
Miller replied: “But if state is mandating that, why is the state not picking up the tab to outfit computers? It makes no sense. We have an obligation to build buildings and we go over and beyond that obligation … You are not selling me. If state’s mandating, state’s paying or it won’t get done.”
Kafitz mentioned that the school system is looking at leasing laptops on a 3- to 4-year cycle and take credit for its value at the end and “move on.” He also noted that the state is looking to allow lottery funds for technology purposes, which currently is not allowed. He mentioned other notions were in the works, such as legislation for more funding for technology, but Kafitz added that he didn’t expect any of that to happen by next fall.
Miller asked Kafitz who funded the computers his own teachers had when he was in school?
Kaftiz said when he was director of technology down the mountain five years ago, the state was giving school systems “four times” as much money as it is now.
“Most school systems have been turning to their local county commissions to fund initiatives to keep moving forward and stay current,” Kafitz replied.
Kennedy asked how much outfitting all the teachers with laptops would cost.
Kafitz said $1 million to $1.2 million dollars to purchase outright.
“Local people of Watauga County need to know that this is something the state has put on them without funding,” Kennedy said.
Yates noted that desktops were cheaper than laptops and that in his experience in business, what he spends on technology, he has been able to reduce in salaries.
After the lengthy discussion on technology and costs, Miller directed staff for a breakdown of where “every dollar” goes that the county commissioners give for local education.
Kafitz also spoke about the line item regarding the supplemental salary increase. This potential increase would be on top of the NCDPI initiated raise.
After Kafitz briefly described the reasoning (recruiting and retention) for a supplemental salary increase, Chairman Nathan Miller said to Kafitz, “Let me ask you this. Deron, I am throwing you under the bus cause I know you two gentlemen had a conversation. You had some leftover money that you were asking to apply to the supplement. What happened to that leftover money?”
Kafitz didn’t say a word and looked at WCS Finance Director Ly Marze. She didn’t answer the question directly but finally said, “The money is there.”
Cutting her off, Miller said, “How much money is there?”
Marze repeated the question: “How much money is there?”
Miller: “How much money is there that you haven’t used? That’s what this all boils down to.”
“A couple hundred thousand is sitting there, [but it’s] not just from the supplements,’ Marze said, adding that WCS has been “fiscally conservative.”
Miller responded by saying that he “appreciated” them not spending it and that he just wanted to know what the amount was because “if you increase the supplement with our money and don’t ask, we’d be upset.”
Capital outlay projects were also discussed. Check back for a different post on funding requests and needs for WCS renovation and construction projects that are taking place in the future or are scheduled down the line.