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School’s ‘ambitious’ budget in peril

After the Stanly County proposed budget was presented during Monday’s commissioners meeting, Stanly County Schools admitted that while the amount the school system received was more than previous years, it was not as much as it had hoped.

“What we received was better than what we have received in prior years but nowhere near where we feel like we need to be,” Superintendent Dr. Jeff James told The Stanly News & Press in a phone interview.

During an April joint meeting with the Board of Commissioners, the school board presented a school budget of around $23.7 million, something School Board Chairman Melvin Poole called“ambitious.”

That amount was a conservative estimate of “what it would really take to run a fully-staffed and functioning school system,” James said.

Ultimately, the commissioners’ proposed budget allocated almost $16.3 million for the public schools — around $7 million less than the school board had hoped. But it was more than the roughly $14.6 million the school received from the 2018-2019 adopted budget.

The issue, James said, is the state continues to shift school operation costs from the state level to the local level and these costs are more than a lot of county budgets can withstand.

The operation costs continue to grow each year at an “alarming rate,” James said.

About $9 million of the school system’s budget is already consumed with operation costs before the county ever decides how much money it will receive, he said.

“There’s no way that rural counties have the budgets available and the property values and the tax base to support the amount of operating costs that’s being shifted down,” James said.

The estimated $7 million gap between the Board of Commissioners proposed budget and the school board’s budget would prevent the school system from filling key positions that are needed, he said.

“We have made a commitment, the board and myself, that our goal is not to RIF (reduction in force) anyone,” he said. “Several counties have done that, but we’ve tried to be good stewards of the money.”

“Unfortunately as people retire, then we have to figure out who’s going to pick up those duties and not rehire those positions,” he added.

The school officials who are left end up having to work longer hours.

James said there’s “a lack of clerical help in our office,” so many employees, including James, have to make copies and do other work themselves.

The school board’s finance committee met Thursday night to discuss a recommendation regarding the county’s budget.

The school board and the Board of Commissioners will have another joint meeting Wednesday night, where the school board could engage in more conversations about acquiring additional school funding.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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