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State, local budget cuts may cost hundreds of UCPS jobs

Union County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Ed Davis, at right, discusses the impact of state and local budget cuts with UCPS Chief Finance Officer Dan Karpinski.

With the downturn in the economy and millions of dollars in reductions from the local, state and federal funding, Union County Public Schools faces the formidable challenge of doing more for growing numbers of students and schools with a lot less money.
   
The yearlong budget process has been especially difficult due to funding uncertainties from state and local funding sources. “This has been the most difficult budget process in the nine years I’ve been at Central Office, four as superintendent, due to all the unknowns,” said Superintendent Dr. Ed Davis. 
   
“It’s been a tremendous challenge for the schools this year. We have had to make unexpected reversions to the state and county out of this year’s funding and now we are trying to forecast how we’re going to be impacted next year,” Davis said. “The largest challenges come from the fact there are so many unknowns with the state budget, along with the strings that are attached to the federal stimulus funds.”
   
The school system had to revert $3.9 million back to the county in February, while returning $1.5 million to the state. Now the state wants another $1.1 million in June, with county commissioners suggesting that further cuts may be needed. Thus far, there has been a total of $10.9 million in reversion dollars to the state and county.
   
Davis and members of his staff, including UCPS Chief Finance Officer Dan Karpinski, met with Union County Commissioners May 26, 2009, trying to work out the school’s portion of the proposed $226.6 million 2009-10 Union County budget. UCPS is asking for $83.9 million for next year, which is actually 3.6 percent less than was initially received from the county in 2008-09.
   
State and local funding cuts are forcing school officials to make some difficult decisions as they try to run the sixth largest school system in the state (with projections of starting the 2009-10 school year with between 600 to 800 new students) with millions of fewer dollars. Exacerbating the problem is the fall 2009 opening of three new UCPS schools (Cuthbertson Middle, Cuthbertson High and Poplin Elementary), adding operating costs to an already strapped budget.
   
Based on a proposed House of Representative’s plan to increase the class size in North Carolina schools by two students, the number of allocated UCPS  state-paid teaching positions would be reduced by up to 180 teachers. The House also proposes to do away with teacher assistants for grade three, which could cost UCPS over 100 teacher assistants.
   
Another piece of bad news came from the state as Union County, along with 12 other counties, faces losing its position in the group called Low Wealth Counties. Under a House of Representative’s plan these thirteen school systems would no longer receive low wealth funds because they would no longer be considered “poor” enough to qualify for the extra money. That means a loss of about $3.3 million for Union County, which equates to 75 teaching positions.
   
With all the impending state and local funding cuts, Davis told commissioners Tuesday that Union County Public Schools could lose between 250 to 450 staff positions, approximately 80 percent of which would be teaching and teaching assistant positions.
   
“We don’t have much control over what happens to the state, but we’ll do everything we can to use our resources, be as creative as we can, to cover those classrooms as best we can,” Davis said. “We’ve been able to avoid massive layoffs at this point, but our folks know that the potential is coming.”
   
To prepare for the funding shortfalls, all UCPS Central Services departments and all 50 schools were asked to reduce their budgets by at least five percent. Cuts were made across the board, some more painful than others, in order to meet the projected shortfall in local, state and federal funds.
   
Things such as travel and workshop expenses and supplies were easier to swallow than having to lose teaching positions and some educational programs.
   
The impact felt from the $3.9 million budget cuts in money from the Union County Commissioners alone forced deferment of repairs and renovations previously defined by the UCPS Facilities Committee as critical needs. 
   
The capital improvement needs included replacing security doors, windows, roof repairs, bathroom renovations, electrical and lighting upgrades, HVAC needs at schools, replacement of bus tires and tubes. Budget cuts also cost instructional equipment, instructional supplies, classroom furniture and materials, instructional technology, as well as staff development.
   
Simply put, there are three main funding sources for the school system: state, local and federal money. About 65 percent of the funding comes from the state, and mostly funds salaries, and instructional supplies and materials.
   
Unfortunately, these funding cuts have a direct impact on students. With the House of Representatives proposed 7.5 percent funding cuts to school transportation departments, there is a strong likelihood of longer bus routes and fewer bus stops because of consolidation of pickup points. Worse case scenario, school officials may even have to park school buses occasionally, making transportation to and from school the responsibility of parents.
   
There will be larger class sizes if the state passes the proposed budget to add two students per classroom, which will result in the reduction of the number of teachers and teacher assistants in North Carolina schools. 
   
Reduced funding may also force a reduction in electives for high school students and enhancement classes like Spanish, art and music for elementary students.
   
About 28 percent of funding comes locally from the Union County taxes. It provides money for operating expenditures such as utilities for school buildings and educational enhancements not possible through state funds (such as lowering class size by hiring additional teachers) and educational materials. Local funds also supplement areas such as helping to recruit and retain quality teachers.
   
Approximately seven percent of funding comes from the federal level, which covers exceptional children’s programs and programs for at-risk students.
   
When reviewing the proposed budget needs with commissioners Tuesday, Davis said the federal stimulus money would not be the saving grace that has been promised.
   
“Everybody sees the federal stimulus money as this great white horse that is going to ride in and save us, but it’s not going to do that,” Davis said. “There are too many strings attached. There are too many parameters on how you can spend that money. It will not fill the holes that are going to be created in every situation.”
     
State officials hope to approve their 2009-10 budgets by June 30, 2009, while the County Commissioners hope to finalize their budgets by June 15, 2009. 
    
Davis said the reductions in educational funding resulting in loss of teachers, support staff, larger classrooms and reduced educational materials and supplies could set the education of Union County students back decades, cutting deep into the resources needed to move forward.
   
Union County Commissioners will hold a public hearing to discuss the 2009-2010 proposed budget. The meeting will be Monday, June 1, 2009, at 7 p.m. in the First Floor Boardroom of the Union County Government Center in Monroe. Anyone interested in speaking, can sign up at 6:30 p.m. To see the agenda, go to http://www.co.union.nc.us/Government/AgendasMinutes/BOCCAgendasMinutes/tabid/57/Default.aspx
   
To view the recommended 2009-2010 Union County budget, click on:
http://www.co.union.nc.us/Government/Finance/FiscalYearBudgets/tabid/148/Default.aspx
    
For more information about the Union County Commissioners, go to: http://www.co.union.nc.us/Government/BoardofCommissioners/CommissionersBios/tabid/127/Default.aspx
   
For legislative contact information, go to http://www.ucps.k12.nc.us/communications/legislative.php
   
For more information about state and local budget cuts go to:
http://www.ncpublicschools.org/newsroom/news/
   
To read about weekly Legislative Updates by Jim Stegall, UCPS Legislative Liaison, go to: http://www.ucps.k12.nc.us/communications/jump_pages/JumpStegallLegislative_Page.php

To view a Special Edition of the Inside News newsletter, click here.

Written by: The Communications Office of the Union County Public Schools
Posted: May 28, 2009 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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