ELIZABETHTON — Although the Carter County School System faces nearly $1 million in needs over last year, Director of Schools Kevin Ward once again expressed his goal of presenting a balanced budget to the County Commission with no increases in the property tax rate for schools.
Ward stated his goal during Monday’s meeting of a workshop session of the Carter County School Board.
Although there is still uncertainty about the school system’s revenue and expenses for next fiscal year, County Finance Director Ingrid Deloach said the school budget is $102,000 from being balanced and Ward felt confident that amount could be found.
If the schools system does meet Ward’s goal, it will be a remarkable achievement. Deloach said a total of $462,500 in one-time cuts from last year must be restored this year. Deloach said that included $300,000 for textbooks, $75,000 for library costs, $20,000 for maintenance equipment, $19,000 for school bands and many other items. Added to these restored cuts, the county schools must also find the funds for an expected increase of $300,000 in insurance costs and $75,000 for a new mowing contract.
Another big impact is the continued loss of revenue to the Elizabethton City School System because of the growing number of students in the city schools while the number of students in the county schools declines. Deloach estimates that would mean the county would lose $106,000 to the city next year.
Deloach said all of these impacts means the county has a need for $943,500 in additional expenses next year.
To meet this need, Ward is proposing several major cuts. By far and the most controversial cut is the proposal to close Range Elementary School. It is estimated the closure will save the county $460,000. Four teaching positions would also be eliminated, saving $193,000. Another $100,000 would be saved by not purchasing school buses next year. A bus garage position would be eliminated, saving $34,000. Cuts to instructional equipment would save $9,500.
That leaves Ward with $102,000 more to cut.
Ward told the board these were only preliminary figures and “lots of things could change,” but he expected to meet his goal of balancing the school budget without raising taxes.
While those considerations were with the money generated from county funds, several supervisors said there were also major challenges with the federal portion of the budget because of the loss of federal funding through sequestration. Special Education Director Carol Whaley said the cuts from sequestration are to be made so that they have the least impact on students.
While discussing the funding challenges, Ward said the decision by Carter County voters a few years ago to approve a referendum to provide the county schools with a half cent of the local option sales tax for school capital projects has been vital.
“If it hadn’t been for the money, we would be hurting,” Ward said.
Some of that money will be used by the school board to upgrade security systems at the schools. That will include more security cameras and replacing the current DVRs with newer, more sophisticated models.