The Elkin City Schools proposed 2016-17 budgets were approved and are headed to the county commissioners for consideration following the school board meeting Monday night.
Being requested of the Surry County commissioners will be $1,175 for each student living in Surry attending Elkin City Schools for its local current expense budget, which funds such items as utilities, operational expenses and some personnel. Jan Zachary, chief finance officer for the Elkin school district, said the three county systems — Elkin, Mount Airy and Surry — are planning to request the same amount of the commissioners for their students.
For the 2015-16 school year, the three systems were given $1,090 per student, despite asking for $1,125. “We’ve been asking for $1,125 for several years to try to get back to that 2008-09 level, but because of inflation we are asking for more this year,” explained Zachary during a recent school board retreat when the budget was discussed.
She said the funding for Elkin City Schools would be for the 956 students attending Elkin which live in Surry County. An additional 245 students attend Elkin from outside the county.
Also, the school system plans to ask for no increase in the supplemental tax of 12.2 cents this year. Around 2008-09, the system was receiving 14.4 cents per $100 valuation for supplemental tax, a special tax levied on properties in the Elkin City Schools district, but that tax was lowered by county commissioners on a couple of occasions bringing it to the 12.2 cent level.
Properties in the Mount Airy City Schools district also are levied a supplemental tax, and Zachary said Monday Mount Airy doesn’t plan on asking for an increase in its amount this year either.
For the capital outlay budget, which funds repairs, renovations, construction and equipment, Elkin City Schools will be requesting $140 per student, with $100 to be used for general capital outlay needs and $40 toward technology needs. Additionally, she said the county commissioners have been providing the systems with $10 per student for security needs following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Capital outlay projects which Elkin will be requesting funding for include the first phase of the Elkin High School gym project at a cost of $5.8 million, installing LED light fixtures at Elkin Elementary School for $18,750, life cycle maintenance funding for things such as air conditioning units for $600,000, ground maintenance funding of $6,000 and a special roof request for Elkin Elementary at $223,975.
Zachary said despite requesting the $600,000 life cycle funding last year, the commissioners provided $249,900. She said that funding as well as the first phase of the high school gym are part of the capital needs assessment recommended by Bill Powell and presented to the county commissioners at a previous time.
Other capital expenses for the 2016-17 school year include technology replacements, funding for replacing another activity bus to help replace the fleet which includes buses from the 1990s, replacing the phone system at Elkin Elementary School as part of security upgrades, the purchase of a four-wheel-drive tractor to scrape parking lots in inclement weather situations, and replacing the 1974 dishwasher in the Elkin Elementary School.
One of the concerns of school staff and board members is the fact that the system’s fund balance has been tapped into significantly the last couple of years to meet shortfalls in revenue mainly on the state level, which will mean next year it could be down to the required three-month operating amount with no addition funds left to allocate if needed.
Zachary said from her estimations, which are based on guessing what the state budget may be prior to it being approved, Elkin City Schools will be looking at using $450,000 to $500,000 to balance its budget next year.
The use of those funds have been to cover a $16,000 shortfall in the amount of money the state is providing for teacher assistants because of a new formula being used to calculate how many TAs the system should be funded. Also, some teachers are being paid through local funds, because of a drop in student population of 50 students based on class sizes in certain grade levels and the formula used by the state to calculate those funds, Zachary explained.
Board member Frank Beals questioned whether the school system should be requesting an increase in supplemental tax to help offset the use of fund balance. He didn’t suggest going to the previous rate of $14.4 cents, but rather in the 13 cent range.
“Before we raise it, we need to discuss that with our community,” said Superintendent Dr. Randy Bledsoe, who suggested that topic be discussed in the fall leading into the 2017-18 fiscal year budget process if that’s what the school board wanted to do.
“There are a lot of senior citizens in the community who would not be happy with us raising that tax without engaging them in the discussion,” he said.
Board member James Freeman also noted the county just went through a revaluation of properties so that could affect the amount of supplemental tax coming into the system if properties’ values increased.
Zachary said the information on the tax values wouldn’t be known until mid-April, and the school system must present its budget to the county commissioners prior to that time.
“I feel like we’re in crisis,” said Beals of pulling from the fund balance. “We’re 16 months from no fund balance.”
Bledsoe agreed the school system can’t keep pulling from fund balance indefinitely. “This could be the year this board has a very difficult decision to make,” he said. “We’re going to have to take a hard look at teachers and positions for programming if this board wants to go with a zero budget.”
While the school board has the ability to request an increase in the supplemental tax rate, the ultimate decision will be one made by the county commissioners.
The third proposed budget to be presented to the county commissioners will be the Fund 8, or special revenues, budget, for programs such as JROTC, nursing and preschool. Zachary said those funds are ones that are designated for flow-through programs, where funding from outside grants or groups come in and then the funding can only be used in that amount for those programs.
All three proposed budgets were passed unanimously following a motion from board member Dr. Jane Riley and a second from Freeman.
The school staff are expected to meet with the county manager and county finance director in early April, and the school systems, including Surry Community College, will present their budgets to the county commissioners during a budget worksession on April 21 beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.