No layoffs for schools

Published 9:35 am Thursday, November 19, 2015

After months of operating under a continuing budget resolution while waiting for the state budget to be adopted, the Davie Board of Education was finally able to approve its 2015-16 budget at the Nov. 3 meeting. The $95 million budget includes a $35.8 million construction budget for the high school.

Superintendent Dr. Darrin Hartness told the board while other counties were forced to cut positions, the $775,000 allotment from the county, while lower than what was requested, allowed the county to avoid a significant layoff.

The state provided over $76,000 more funding this year but Hartness said that was consumed by salary increases, a bonus, and increases in employer contributions to health care and retirement. The state is also funding 2.77 fewer teaching positions, one less instructional support position and 14 months less of employment.

“So the whole story is it costs much more this year to actually cover the cost of fewer employees than last year,” he said.

As a comparison, Hartness said, the system is spending $3.2 million more in benefits and $1.2 million less in salaries than in 2008-09. There are fewer students, but there are also 82 fewer employees.

“Our staff continues to take on additional responsibilities as the number of adults to children has been adjusted downward,” he said.

As new companies move into the county and others expand operations, the county’s tax base continues to grow, which is a positive thing, Hartness said, but it also means the school system loses funds from the Low Wealth Fund. The fund was established to provide supplemental monies to counties that do not have the ability to generate revenue to support public schools. Over the past four years, Davie schools have received, annually, about $430,000 in low wealth funds. This year, that amount was reduced by over $165,000, as the county’s revenue availability has moved from 92 percent to 99.57 percent. If the county wealth reaches 100 percent of the state average wealth, as calculated by the state formula, the county will no longer receive low wealth funds.

“It’s a good problem to have (a larger tax base) but it also reduces funding, and that’s not good,” Hartness said.

After some discussion, the board voted to appropriate $488,500 in fund balance, as a temporary measure to balance the budget. Last year, the board appropriated $775,000 in fund balance, but only used $586,427. Steve Ridenhour said he was concerned about the board drawing down the fund balance without a plan to replace it.

“Eventually, we’re going to run out of fund balance,” he said. “I wanted to use fund balance years ago to pay for the teacher assistants and was told no, because there was no plan in place to replenish it and it’s non-sustainable.”

Essentially a savings account, the fund balance was at $1.53 million as of June 30.

Hartness said the only way to replenish the account would be to either ask the county commissioners for more money or reduce staff.

“You are correct, Steve, we can’t continue to use fund balance every year to balance the budget. I’m thankful we have a fund balance policy and that we have fund balance, or else we would be facing a reduction in staff in the middle of the school year,” he said.

His recommendation was to appropriate a portion of the fund balance to avoid losing staff, and to make adjustments throughout the remainder of the school year, by not filling vacancies as they occur.

“It is not our intention to use all of the fund balance that is appropriated,” he said.

The board’s vote to adopt the budget was unanimous.