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Originally published: 2013-04-17 10:05:50
Last modified: 2013-04-17 10:08:29

School board approves draft budget

The Watauga County Board of Education approved a preliminary 2013-14 budget request Monday that seeks about $1.5 million more in local funding than the prior year.

In addition to the $13.34 million budget request for current expenses, the school system will also ask for about $555,000 in capital outlay for maintenance expenses and purchases.

Administrators will present the request to county staff Friday before meeting with the Watauga County Board of Commissioners on May 9.

Among the largest increases in the proposed budget is a $595,970 request to purchase instructional materials, including math textbooks, licenses for online resources and science materials.

Assistant Superintendent David Fonseca stressed that the instructional supplies are necessary due to years of cuts from the state funding stream and changes this year in the state-mandated curriculum.

"This $600,000 would be sufficient only to spend a total of about $135 per pupil in our school district," Fonseca said, adding that the money will only cover the core subjects of math, science, social students and language arts.

The proposed budget also increases the exceptional children services by about 50 percent to $496,948. The increase comes primarily from salaries and related employee costs.

It also seeks $100,000 to begin the Junior ROTC program at Watauga High School and remains flat on all athletic programs, with the exception of a slight increase for athletic transportation.

Because the state is considering a modest raise in teacher salaries, the school system also has budgeted a 1.6 percent increase for locally funded employee positions. Across each department, expenses for Social Security, retirement and insurance will also increase.

The budget also seeks more money for staff development, which Fonseca said was also critical to instruct teachers on how to better teach the new curriculum standards. The budget seeks $38,400 -- a more than 300 percent increase -- for countywide staff development, in addition to another $13,100 for targeted staff development.

Smaller line items include about $24,500 for technology repairs, supplies and wiring; $20,000 for exterior painting; $15,000 in additional substitute wages; $15,311 for electronic devices for principals to conduct walkthrough classroom evaluations; and an $8,000 grant for the Mountain Alliance program.

Fonseca said he hopes to be able to show commissioners that cuts in state funding have created the need for local sources to fill in the gaps.

"The (state) support for textbooks ... is almost zero," he said. "The support for staff development is now nonexistent. I don't remember the last time we received anything for technology upgrades."

In addition to current expenses, the school system also will budget $555,370 for capital outlay expenses, including an $89,700 school security system involving cameras, buzzers and card readers at entry doors.

The schools hope to use N.C. Education Lottery money for that and two other projects, while relying on local funding for districtwide technology improvements, band and orchestra equipment, furniture, lawnmowers, maintenance trucks and other purchases.

The school system also hopes to buy a $48,000 GPS/radio system for its bus fleet that will allow staff to monitor the buses' locations at three-minute intervals. The system also is accompanied by an $11,500 annual licensing cost.


- Board taps into fund balance

Aside from projecting the next fiscal year, the board of education also dealt with financial matters for the current year.

The board voted unanimously Monday to spend about $1,058,000 from this year's fund balance to pay for instructional materials and technology infrastructure needs.

Technology services director Chris Devera has recommended about $450,000 in immediate infrastructure needs that include a replicated server system that will prevent the entire system from crashing if any one part fails.

"Our backup solution is very scary," Devera said. "It doesn't work well."

The costs also include extending warranties for the server system, additional wireless points for the elementary schools and security upgrades.

Devera described the changes as those needed to take Watauga County Schools to "ground zero."

The school system started the year with about $5,097,000 in its fund balance. The general recommendation is to keep about three months of operating expenses -- about $2.8 million -- in fund balance, said Finance Director Ly Marze.

The fund balance accumulated while the school system was in transition from former Superintendent Marty Hemric, who left in December 2011, to interim Superintendent Dick Jones.

As an interim, Jones "drove a steady ship" and did not spend much on new initiatives, Marze noted. 

Watauga County Schools also had an interim personnel director during that time and held off on some instructional purchases because of uncertainty about the new curriculum, according to Marze and Fonseca.

After approving the $1,058,000 expenditure Monday, subtracting the $186,110 for the buyout of former Superintendent David Kafitz's contract and ignoring the amount needed in reserve, the fund balance now totals only about $360,000, Marze said.

Board members Brenda Reese and Barbara Kinsey expressed frustration that the fund balance had grown so large while schools were continuing to tighten belts.

"Teachers were told constantly there is no money, there is no money, there is no money," Reese said.

The board also talked about the school system's current dental insurance plan and discussed holding a board retreat to talk about expectations and strategic decisions. The board tentatively settled on June 14 for a retreat.