School system looking at budget breakdown, bills in Raleigh

By Wendy Byerly Wood -

With a large number of people still in attendance during Monday’s Elkin City Schools Board of Education meeting, Chief Financial Officer Jan Zachary gave an update on the budget, a little history on how it got where it is this year and items, such as bills in Raleigh, which could affect it going forward.

Looking back at the local fund balance, which is sometimes called a “rainy day” fund of savings, at the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year it held $2,152,169, according to that year’s audit report. By the end of the 2014-15 school year, it had declined to $1,933,822.

Of the money used out of the fund balance in those two years of decrease, Zachary said $218,347 were used to keep existing staff and add back needed school positions which were not replaced during the lean budget years from 2008-2012. Those positions had been lost through attrition and retirement and due to shortfalls in revenues were not replaced at the time, she explained.

Positions added back through the use of fund balance in 2013-14 included a media teacher at Elkin Elementary School and a technology technician.

In 2014-15, positions added back out of fund balance were a band director, classroom teacher, Elkin High School exceptional children’s teacher one semester half time and a 1-percent increase for that year only in local supplement for all employees to offset the local of an increase by the General Assembly, which had funded the increase for state-paid employees only.

In the 2015-16 fiscal year, which will end June 30, Zachary is estimating the fund balance will end with $1,539,672, with the school system having used $394,150. Positions added back this year from fund balance included the remainder of the high school exceptional children’s teacher position, at EC teacher at Elkin Elementary, moving a speech therapist from 75 percent to 100 percent with benefits due to a greater need to serve students and a $750 bonus to all staff members from local and federal funds plus the social security match. The money also was used to supplement the loss of two state-funded classroom teacher positions and the $32,000 in teacher assistant positions not covered by the state, so that the school system wouldn’t lose those positions.

“We try our best to keep our people in classrooms,” said Zachary.

All of that $1.5 million in fund balance cannot be spent, she said. The total amount is made up of restricted funds, assigned funds and unassigned funds. The Local Government Commission recommends a government entity to keep at least eight percent, or about three months operations cost, in fund balance at all times, which for Elkin City Schools is about $700,000.

Zachary also reported that during the past 10 years, the number of positions at the central office also has decreased. Positions eliminated were a full-time receptionist, a 50-percent public information officer and a full-time instructional technology facilitator. Also, two certified positions – a grades 7-12 testing facilitator and a grades K-6 testing facilitator – were combined into one position, a K-12 testing facilitator, she said.

In beginning the school system’s budget process, Zachary said requests for budget items are made to every employee of the school system, then those requests are compiled and the finance director, maintenance director and chief technology officer meet with each school’s School Improvement Team to prioritize those requests.

“Then our core team of principals and directors prioritize capital outlay requests and make up the budget according to the funds available,” Zachary said, noting that the final budget is used to request funds from the county commissioners. “Maintaining what we have has been the big thing.”

Each budget is divided into four categories – capital outlay, personnel, technology, and supplies and materials, she explained.

The House of Representatives budget release for the coming 2016-17 fiscal year was released just prior to Monday’s school board meeting, Zachary reported, as she gave a rundown of what is included in the House version of the budget.

Those items include:

• A raise for teachers and instructional support ranging from zero to 15.1 percent with an average of 4.1 percent

• A $1,000 bonus paid monthly and subject to retirement, for Steps 0-4 and 25-plus

• Principals and assistant principals, salary steps are increased by an average of 2 percent and a $500 bonus for any administrator who did not receive a step increase

• Noncertified and central office, a 2 percent increase and a $500 bonus which is not subject to retirement.

The school system also is facing a retirement cost of 16.55 percent, which a 1.23 percent increase, Zachary said. The system’s hospitalization cost is expected to increase by 3.47 percent to $5,659 per employee per year.

House bills which have been introduced and Zachary said could affect local school systems’ budget include HB 539, which is a charter school funding bill. “Whatever we write grants for, I used JROTC for an example, they want that funding, even if they don’t have those programs,” Zachary said.

The other is HB 1134, which would give administrative changes to the retirement system. “They want to set a new minimum retirement age of 55 instead of 50 for all new employees hired as of Jan. 1, 2017,” she explained, adding this could make it difficult to keep quality employees.

In answering a question on class size changes proposed from board member James Freeman, Zachary said the only change proposed for the new school year is to have one teacher for each 16 students in first grade instead of the existing policy of one for each 17 students.

Zachary said one positive highlight for revenues is taxes have been coming in higher than they had been, due to a higher collection rate and the tax office being conservative with the predictions they’ve given the school office to work with.

Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.

By Wendy Byerly Wood

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