Gate guards among I-SS job reductions
BY KARISSA MILLER
Iredell-Statesville school board members weighed their options that included personnel cuts on Thursday as the district prepares for a $2 million shortfall based on a $36.2 million current expense budget for fiscal year 2017-2018.
The budget proposal represents a $1.4 million -- or 4 percent -- increase in funding by the Iredell County Board of Commissioners over last year’s budget.
The district’s initial 2017-2018 budget proposal was for approximately $38 million, requesting a $3.1 million -- or 9-percent -- increase over last year’s budget.
“This has been the smoothest, most effective in my memory collaborations with the between the county and the school system. We were anticipating 3 percent and got a 4 percent increase (in local funding). I’m just really thankful for the county stretching our budget and giving us more funding,” Superintendent Brady Johnson said.
Johnson then told the board that the budget committee presented two budgets upon the board’s request, with one using fund balance and one not using any. He then read off potential reductions and challenges. Also, he acknowledged possible state and federal reductions.
One of the challenges is increases in fixed costs, including employee raises, costs associated with charter school growth and employee benefit costs — totaling around $1 million.
“That’s a major point to me,” board member Charles Kelly said. “We have to cut personnel to cover what has been mandated to us.”
Another challenge is the expiration of the $20 million federal Race to the Top IMPACT grant in June 2017. As a result of the grant, Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Melanie Taylor explained that the district had been able to shift the cost of salaries and benefits for five Student Assistance Program Coordinator positions and 15 Blended Learning Instructional Facilitator positions into the grant. Now, if the board decides to keeps all positions, it would cost $1,363,300.
Additionally, North Carolina school districts are preparing for a state class size reduction that’s intended to lower class size ratios for kindergarten through third grade classrooms, effective in the 2018-2019 school year.
The board will have to make a decision whether or not to cut 12 teaching positions — for a cost of $592,250 — or six teaching positions — for a cost of $334,750 — that will enable the district to hire the needed elementary teachers associated with the mandate.
Associate Superintendent for Human Resources Alvera Lesane said it’s unclear at this time how many positions will be needed, but the district may know by next week.
Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and Planning Kenny Miller requested the board reinstate two additional maintenance workers for managing workloads in a timely manner. This would cost $91,200.
Miller added that some schools have critical needs, for example, Mt. Mourne.
Along with the aforementioned positions, others discussed were gate guards, ROTC teachers (shortening contracts) and an unspecified amount of central office staff.
In the midst of discussion, Chief Finance Officer Melissa Wike reminded the board there are still many unknowns, therefore any proposal may be subject to change.
In a split decision, board members voted at the end of the work session to spend approximately $1.3 million from the school’s fund balance, or savings account, in an effort to make students’ needs a priority in the 2017-2018 budget.
A motion to utilize the fund balance squeaked by on a 4-3 vote with Cindy Haynes, Vice Chairman Chuck Gallyon and Chairman Martin Page casting the dissenting votes.
The decision to use fund balance will help save as many teaching positions as possible; moreover, it will enable the district to cut six teaching positions, instead of 12. The board also decided to add one extra SAP position and agreed to keep all 15 BLIF positions.
However, the board will move to reduce central office staff for a savings of $150,000.
Johnson said that the budget committee will meet to decide which central office staff positions may be reduced.
Other reductions included 6.5 teaching positions, eliminating gate guard positions and reducing funding allotted for retired principal pay.
Employees whose positions are eliminated could be shifted into other positions, officials stated.
Page explained that he would prefer to hold off on tapping the fund balance because enrollment is uncertain and has been off for the past two years.
“We may have to use as much as a million come August if we have to hire more teachers,” he said. “It’s wasted money, but that’s my opinion.”
Although the district’s student enrollment may increase next school year, the state is projecting enrollment to be around 20,413 students. Wike said that number is a safe estimate.
The chairman later called it “a very non-conservative budget.”
After the meeting, in an interview, when Johnson was asked about the proposed reductions and spending, the superintendent said that it was going to be a challenge with losing central office staff and in general, but that the district would make it work.