Beaufort News

County council makes decision final: School district must cut budget

After several weeks of the Beaufort County Board of Education delaying cuts to its $192.9 million budget and hoping county leaders would give it more money, it no longer has a choice.

In its third and final reading Monday night, County Council approved a $190.4 million budget for the district in a 9-2 vote, with Laura Von Harten and Brian Flewelling opposed. The approved budget allows for $114.9 million in tax revenue; the district originally requested $118.2 million.

The school board now will have to make last-minute cuts to its 2014-15 budget before the fiscal year begins July 1. To meet that deadline, the board has scheduled a special meeting for 5 p.m. Tuesday in the district office at 2900 Mink Point Blvd., Beaufort.

"I think it went as we expected," school board chairman Bill Evans said after Monday's meeting. "I made my comments during the meeting hoping we might change someone's mind in the end to give us more money, but we also were realistic."

Although council undercut Beaufort County schools' requested tax revenue by about $3.3 million, it cut the district's total operations expenditures by only about $2.5 million.

In an amendment that passed unanimously Monday, council allowed the district to spend some additional money -- but it won't come from tax revenue.

The difference, at just under $1 million, would have to be made up from the school district's fund balance.

"I certainly don't see any problem in (making this change) because we are not increasing what we are allocating from local taxpayers. We are just allowing (the district) to have some flexibility to work with their fund balance," council member Jerry Stewart said.

District and board officials said they will take what they can get.

"The best thing that happened tonight is they raised the amount of money we could spend in our budget, and they have left it up to us where that money comes from," Evans said.

In recent meetings, the board identified about $2 million in reductions it could make to the budget to prepare for council's cuts. Those include: using newly available state funding for literacy coaches; decreasing transportation costs; cutting career and technical program expansion funding; discontinuing a teacher incentive program; and lowering the amount of funding allotted for school board expenses.

If the board decides to dip into its reserve fund, it would need to make few additional cuts. Evans said that flexibility could help the board avoid having to cut some programs or services.

Other options for cuts being considered by the board include removing hall monitors, discarding step pay increases for administrators and classified staff, and eliminating the strings program and athletic insurance provided to students.

Even though the school district has the ability to spend more money, it won't necessarily do so, superintendent Jeff Moss said.

"It is good to have that option, but we wouldn't be able to continue paying for recurring expenses -- like our programs -- with funds that are not recurring, such as from our fund balance," he said. "That will deplete our reserves."

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