PILOT MOUNTAIN — School attendance has gone down again this year, but that doesn’t mean the county taxpayers can get a break.
At a budget workshop here last week the Surry County Board of Education was shown a chart of the drop in the average daily members (ADM). Surry County Schools had 8,693 students in 2008-09, and it slipped to 7,957 in this current year; next year the district is estimating 7,817, a drop of 1.76 percent.
Based on discussions this week, the school district is seeking $10,357,525 from the county commissioners, which is 1.74 percent less than the $10.54 million requested a year ago, in line with the ADM drop.
However, the big drop in funding is expected to come from the state. Possibly as many as 10 jobs could be eliminated because of an anticipated drop in per-pupil funding for teachers, teacher assistants and suppport staff.
Because the state funds most of the expenses for operating schools, and the county pays for building needs and upkeep, a drop in ADM doesn’t equate to a big cut in local tax dollars.
As school board members noted last year, it costs the same to keep a roof over kids’ heads and the HVAC operating whether there are 20 kids in a classroom or 18.
Rather than base funding on a lump sum, however, the county also uses a per-pupil formula.
In 2008-09, the funding per student was $1,125, stated district finance officer Donna Bryant. After the recession hit, funding dropped as low as $1,060 in 2011-12.
In 2016-17, the rate was $1,115. The county district explained last year that with the drop in attendance, keeping the same level of funding would require bumping the per-student rate up to $1,143. After much discussion with all three school districts, the Board of Commissioners settled on $1,140 for the present year.
While on the topic of per-student funding, Bryant said the schools charge families a tuition if the child doesn’t live in the county district. The rate has been $1,125, which was slightly more than the county rate of $1,115 in 2016-17.
Is that enough now, asked board member Brian Moser.
Dr. Terri Mosley, board chair, said the school board could decide to make the tuition the same as the county pays per pupil. An additional fee could possibly be added for out-of-state tuition the way that colleges do, although Mosley said most of the tuition students come from Stokes County. Those already paying $1,125 could be grandfathered in until they graduate.
Even though the total amount the county schools are seeking from the commissioiners is 1.74 percent less than a year ago, it would make the ADM funding go from $1,140 to $1,175, which could look on the surface like an increase.
Dr. Travis Reeves, school superintendent, said the school board has had a rough job over the past decade, making the tough decisions to cut positions when the state pulls funding, rather than wiping out reserves trying to keep jobs going. Since 2008, the board has cut more than 100 positions, he said.
At the start of the fiscal year, the board had a fund balance of $4.63 million, with $1.86 million unassigned.
With $66.1 million in expenses a year ago, this savings equates to 7 percent of the funds required for a year. Bryant said school systems aren’t required to maintain a fund balance, but the district has tried to build toward the 8 percent that is recommended for cities and towns.
The fund balance was at $6.29 million in June 2012, but dropped $1.5 million over the next two years because the state and local ADM allotments had dropped so much, Bryant pointed out.
Last year, the schools sought a big jump in capital outlay per student, noting both the drop in ADM and a big need for improvements. The commissioners decided to keep the rate at $110 per kid because of plans for massive renovations at three elementary schools. Planning already has begun on those projects for Mountain Park, White Plains and Franklin.
The $110 rate came to about $875,000, said Reeves, but Robert Draughn, director of plant operations, has had far more repair needs than that so far this year.
Next year will be no different, as Draughn listed several needs other than the three school jobs in the works.
The membrane roof at Meadowview Magnet Middle School has split open in places, some as long as 20 feet, he said. Repairing the roof could take about $160,000.
The district had previously approved spending money to upgrade bus cameras that are about a decade old. But that plan was put on hold because of emergency needs such as the heating system at Central Middle School breaking down over the winter.
Getting new equipment on the hundred or so buses in the county could cost another $160,000.
Surry has greatly reduced the number of mobile homes used on campuses, but there are still a few where the county pays a rental fee, which will come to $46,000 next year.
Some of this cost will be reduced when Mountain Park gets a new building next year, said Reeves.
This fiscal year the schools have made some repairs to athletic facilities like North Surry’s tennis court, Surry Central’s track surface and East Surry’s wiring for the baseball field lights.
Next year, continuing this program will cost $35,000 for the tennis courts at East and Central, $15,000 for other stadium lighting repairs, and $10,000 for the tracks at East and North.
A bigger issue is the crumbling concrete for East Surry’s visitor seating in the football stadium. This has come up before and could require half a million to fix.
The county schools will ask the commissioners for an increase from $110 per student to $150, plus separate funding for the big-ticket special projects like the East bleachers.
Last year the schools asked for $46,000 to boost extra-curricular funding (such as stipends for those who coach or lead afterschool groups like cheerleaders, band and chorus). That didn’t get approved, so the schools will try again, this time seeking $55,000.
“Two systems can outspend us on coaching any time they want to,” said board member Earlie Coe, mentioning Mount Airy by name.
Athletic trainers have a lot of requirements on maintaining their certifications, added Reeves, so the county should provide more for those staying up to code.
Now that the schools have prepared a list of requests, the next step is setting a time to meet with the commissioners to explain all the details.
Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.