DOBSON — Local schools might not be losing funding after all.
During a Board of Commissioners budget workshop Tuesday night, three of the five county commissioners seemed to be leaning toward giving the three school districts roughly the same amount of money as they are receiving this current fiscal year — even if the wording changed a little bit.
The budget proposed by County Manager Chris Knopf would cause an overall drop in school funding in the fiscal year starting July 1.
State and federal funding to districts is based on a per-pupil basis, using a school system’s attendance, or average daily membership (ADM). County funding also has been based on ADM.
That method of math doesn’t work out well for Surry County Schools this year because the district has lost about 200 students, out of more than 8,000, at its 19 campuses. Keeping the funding at the same rate per student would cause the schools to lose about $226,000 overall, Dr. Travis Reeves, superintendent, told the commissioners Tuesday night.
For all three public school districts, plus Millennium Charter and virtual charter schools, the current ADM rate of $1,115 per child would come to $12,265,375 for the next fiscal year. This would be down $341,930 from the current $12,607,305. For the three public systems alone, the amount less would be about $280,000.
Elkin’s superintendent, Dr. Myra Cox, said $1,143 per student would be about break even on what the district received this year. The difference between $1,115 and $1,143 would be about the salary of an employee. Considering that the district might have to hire a couple of teachers next year to be in compliance with House Bill 13, which lowers some class sizes, it doesn’t make sense to do a staff reduction now.
Eddie Harris, board chairman, said he and Van Tucker had met with the three superintendents earlier in the day as part of the finance committee. Back in the 2007-08 school year, the ADM rate was $1,125, but then the recession hit and the rate was dropped to $1,060. As the economy has come back, the ADM rate has grown steadily to the current $1,115, he explained.
Tucker said he came away with a good impression from the talks with school personnel. He felt like there were no tricks or ploys; the schools laid everything out on the table. The schools talked about what they’d like to have, and the county talked about what it could afford.
“That’s the way I like to do business,” said Tucker.
Harris agreed that he didn’t sense any hidden agenda as everything was open and information forthcoming.
The schools had asked for $1,175, which doesn’t seem realistic considering the county budget, Harris noted. And yet, compared to some neighboring counties, that some looks pretty small. In Stokes County, the ADM rate is $1,674 with between 6,000 and 7,000 students.
At what point at raising ADM does the county board have to raise property taxes to cover things the state should be funding, asked Commissioner Larry Phillips.
“There is a finite point of money,” said Phillips. “What is the limit given our current tax structure and current expenditures?”
“I have a prediction that you’re going to be right back here next year,” Phillips said to the school officials. “In fact, I have a feeling that some of the changes could make things worse for you next year.”
Before any additional tax is laid on citizens, there needs to be a public talk.
While the lottery hasn’t been perfect, said Harris, $10 million from the lottery has come into the county since its inception. And that with a quarter-cent sales tax increase a few years back together have saved Surry from needing any property-tax boost so far.
In fact, Harris pointed out, the county just got its new data on sales tax collected for April. There was some concern on how the new Walmart in King might affect sales tax for residents living near the eastern border of Surry County. Would they be spending their money in Stokes instead of Surry? The report stated that sales tax collections were up 6 percent in April, which is an encouraging sign for the local economy.
After much discussion, Harris proposed a compromise of $1,140 per student. That would be a boost of $280,325. That wouldn’t be all of the $341,930 difference between this year’s funding and the county manager’s proposed budget, but would go a long way toward softening the blow. The board tends to budget conservatively in Surry County, but he believes this is a fairly reasonable compromise.
Commissioner Larry Johnson said he had written down in his notes before the meeting that he thought $1,130 would be the minimum he was comfortable with and that $1,140 sounded good, so he was on the same wavelength as Harris.
Tucker said he could understand arguments on both sides. How much can the county afford? The more the county spends, the more it has to take in.
He said he didn’t know of any instant relief to cure the pain of losing more than a quarter of a million dollars in one year, so he does agree that some effort should be made to keep funding fairly consistent with the current year.
However, Tucker said he wasn’t willing to budge on capital outlay. The schools had asked for an increase in ADM funding for capital expenditures from $110 to $150, but he said he wasn’t willing to go up since the county is looking to borrow $30 million for big projects over the next few years.
Harris said $110 is the county manager’s recommendation, and he is fine with leaving it there.
Buck Golding said he agrees with both county manager figures. Chris doesn’t fudge his numbers a whole lot, and there is a certain amount that can be exceeded, he said, so he wants to keep the ADM funding at $1,115 and $110 for both issues.
There are plenty of other concerns in the annual budget such as law enforcement, acquiring property, fixing up the old courthouse, he noted.
After discussion, the board seemed to support keeping the capital outlay funding at $110.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.