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News Education School districts across the state are standing up for education

Dan BrigmanThe Macon County School Board is joining numerous school districts from across the state to ask the North Carolina General Assembly to eliminate the annual discretionary reversion from the school system budget.

Last year, Macon County was forced to send back $1.26 million, causing budget cuts to be passed down to the local level. With continued funding cuts across the board, Macon County School’s finance director Angie Cook is budgeting for an anticipated 5 percent increase of the reversion $1.4 million for next school year.

During its April meeting, the Macon County Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution to plead with lawmakers to prevent the reversions from occurring and to fully fund education.

“The discretionary reversions have been applied to state funding allotments for four consecutive years, which extremely misleads the actual funding level received by school districts,” reads the resolution passed during last month’s meeting.

This year, the state designated $24.77 million to Macon County school districts. That allocation already reflected budget cuts passed down by the General Assembly. After notifying districts across the state of their year’s allotment, the state then ordered the mandated reversion which passed down the burden of cutting programs to the local level. The reversion makes it seem like the General Assembly is not cutting as much as they are because it is left up individual districts to identify what to cut in order to meet the mandated reversion.

To meet the reversion this year, Macon County reconfigured the budget and “traded in” 19 teaching positions. By trading in the teaching positions, the district was credited the amount of their salaries, and instead of laying off those teachers, their salaries became paid out of local funds. In addition to the teaching positions, the district traded in 12 months of employment in School Building administration, $80,000 in teacher assistant funding and the remainder in At-Risk funds (069), all of which fall to the local budget.

Since the 2008-2009 school year 21 positions have been lost within Macon County Schools. Those positions have been left vacant after retirements or personnel transitions. Of the 21, 18 positions were teacher or assistant teachers. “We are ultimately asking our employees to do more with less,” said Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman.

Macon County is bracing for an even greater shortfall for next year because federal Education Jobs (“EduJobs”) money is set to expire. The EduJobs fund, which was signed into law 21 months ago, provided North Carolina with $297 million to save jobs in NC schools at the height of the Great Recession. State education leaders believe more cuts are imminent in 2012, as $400 million in federal “EduJobs” will no longer be available. Macon County used $206,890 in “EduJobs” monies last year. The “EduJobs” monies are used by local school districts to fund teacher and instructional support positions. More than 4,000 positions are being supported by these funds throughout the state in the 2011-12 school year, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

In addition to continued cuts and losing the EduJobs funding pool, Macon County is receiving less funding from the federal Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act (SRSCA). Districts across the nation have relied on SRSCA funding to help balance their budgets since the program’s inception in 1906.

Macon County has become reliant on the SRSCA funds, which are generated through timber sales on federal property in the county, as a supplement to make up for state budget shortfalls. Since 2000, SRSCA funds have steadily decreasing, and this year Macon County Schools received $178,286 in funding, a $24,000 reduction from last year.

Reauthorization of the SRSCA funds is still being debated in Congress, making the amount districts will receive in the future unsure, if districts continue to receive it at all. With that in mind, Macon County Schools officials are more hesitant to continue to rely on that funding source.

The resolution signed by the Macon County Board of Education last month marks the 48th district to sign the resolution in the state urging State legislators to reconsider the mandated reversion.

“The Macon County Board of Education and superintendent have had to make extreme cuts in both personnel and essential programs due to the extensive budget cuts since 2008,” reads the resolution. “Therefore, be it resolved that the Macon County Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools respectfully request that the legislature for the State of North Carolina fully fund education and eliminate the discretionary reversion for the betterment of public education for all school systems in North Carolina.”

With an increase in the anticipated budget cuts for next school year, the board of education requested that in the event of a $1.4 million reversion, county commissioners provide a $689,432 funding match to make up for the reversion.

In order for the school system to meet the funding match, it would be forced to tap into the $1.3 million fund balance that the county has been building over the years in preparation for budget cuts that might affect education in Macon County.

According to Dr. Brigman, by splitting the cost of the reversion with the county, the district will be able to preserve crucial programs and positions in the school district that might otherwise be eliminated.


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