According to the legislature's own fiscal research, the anticipated $3.7 billion state deficit is due to:
· $1.6 billion in expiring federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) funds
· $1.3 billion in taxes that expire June 30, 2011 (could be extended, but only if the General Assembly takes action to do so…indications are, they won't)
· $300 million in one-time reductions and transfer of fund balances
Governor Perdue has asked all governmental agencies, including K-12 public schools, to prepare for ADDITIONAL cuts of 5%, 10%, up to 15% for 2011-12. It's important for our community to know and understand the full impact of these additional, unprecedented cuts that will negatively impact students and our community for years to come.
First let's review the cuts that have already occurred to Buncombe County Schools beginning three years ago. From 2008 to 2009, the Buncombe County Schools' allotment from the State Public School fund was reduced by about $16 million dollars.
At the same time, the current expense appropriation from the Buncombe County Commissioners was reduced by over $700,000.
Our local funds were also hurt by: an increase in the retirement rate, increases in health insurance, and in utility rate hikes—increases that cost the system another $868,000 last year. The State also stopped paying such benefits as longevity and disability pay, workers compensation and unemployment, leaving us to fill those gaps as well.
115 positions were lost at Buncombe County Schools in year one of the budget crisis, 47.5 of which were teachers, 20 technology workers, another 30 assistants and instructional support personnel, central office staff and others. Since then, more positions have been cut, for a total to date of 136.5 positions lost. This year we also cut back by five days the number of days worked by hundreds of teacher assistants and other support personnel, saving the system a quarter of a million dollars.
Further cuts have also hit us over the past year, amounting to ANOTHER $3 MILLION on top of the cuts already mentioned. The flexibility to use both local and lottery capital funds for operational purposes was instrumental in handling these cuts.
Two things have saved us SO FAR from a devastating situation: first, the ARRA stimulus and stabilization funds Buncombe County Schools received from the federal government over the past two years. This funding filled in temporarily the many holes left by state budget cuts, but will expire next fall and will not be replaced. That's the “cliff” or the “tsunami” you may have heard about.
Second, with the help of our CFO Mary Parker and the efforts of all BCS department heads and principals, we have cut expenses to the bone. The textbook budget has been eliminated, and the instructional supply budget reduced dramatically. We have virtually eliminated overtime, eliminated funds for tutoring, and streamlined operations throughout the system.
We have focused in on 5 key priorities, and made sure that the funding we have goes to support those priorities. They are:
(1) To ensure that high school students meet graduation requirements;
(2) To provide a sound K-3 foundation of balanced literacy;
(3) To work towards equity in curriculum across all districts;
(4) To continue to reduce the dropout rate through the Graduation Initiative K-12; and
(5) To support the advancement of technology at all levels.
In order to address these priorities and the most important educational needs of all Buncombe County students, the highest priority has been to save classroom teaching positions while coping with the budget cuts ahead.
We have had some good news this year. We are receiving approximately $5.2 million through the federal jobs bill that will help us save some teaching positions for next year at least.
We also received “Race to the Top” funding, which provides a unique and temporary opportunity to improve some aspects of education in Buncombe County, but cannot be used to save jobs or replace lost funding.
But even with that good news, there is a huge cliff ahead when millions of federal stimulus and stabilization money goes away next fall.
But that is far from the end of the story.
Now, on top of all of the other cuts made over the past several years and the loss of federal stimulus and stabilization funds, the State is asking us to expect ADDITIONAL cuts of up to 15%. And that brings us to the one number you need to remember: $27 MILLION DOLLARS. That's what we believe we will have to cut out of the Buncombe County School budget for next year.
By and large, although we're still looking every day for other line items to cut, with over 80% of our budget invested in human resources, there's little left to cut except people…
People who teach students…people who transport them to school…people who prepare and serve their meals…people who provide counseling support…and yes, people in the central office who are responsible for student health and safety, for technology and media needs, for keeping students in school, for providing accommodations for students with special needs, and for implementing state curriculum across all grade levels.
Buncombe County Schools is the second largest employer in Buncombe County, with approximately 4,000 full and part time employees. It takes people to monitor time sheets and manage benefit information, and prepare payroll for a wide variety of certified and non-certified personnel whose salaries may be paid by the State, the County, the federal government, or a combination thereof. It takes finance professionals to carefully manage taxpayer dollars so they are effectively and efficiently spent, and with nearly four dozen school buildings and other facilities, people are needed to build, restore and maintain them. And, it takes communications personnel to keep parents, employees, the community and media informed and aware of matters affecting individual schools and the system as a whole.
If our estimates prove true, we stand to lose approximately 355 non-certified employees, and up to 90 or more classroom teaching positions….approximately 450 people dedicated to serving Buncombe County Students. While some of these lost positions will be dealt with through retirements and attrition, the effect of this loss on already overburdened employees, on class size, educational impact, and the health and safety of our students is incalculable.
We encourage our school community to learn about the budget crisis facing our school system and the state. Stay informed as state and local elected officials work to manage that crisis, and make your views known. Remember this crisis is not of their making, and support their efforts to resolve it in the best manner possible.
Going forward, our students, our teachers, our schools, will need your help in finding ways to mitigate the severe impacts this loss of funding will have. Your time, your influence, and your support is needed so that Buncombe County Schools can continue to provide the fiscally responsible, outstanding education that our students, parents, and community expect and deserve.