BY KARISSA MILLER
The Iredell-Statesville Board of Education voted unanimously to adopt the proposed $228.6 million budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year at Monday’s board meeting.
Funding comes from federal and state sources, as well as local taxes. It is also comprised of special revenue funds from sources like federal grants and the Coronavirus Relief Fund, the CARES Act funds.
The 2020-2021 budget includes an increase in local funding for current operating expenses by $6.8 million to $45.3 million. This is the result of county commissioners redirecting funds from capital outlay to operations.
The spending plan includes a one-time $500 bonus for classified employees and a step increase for bus drivers that raises the starting pay to $13 per hour.
Chief Finance Officer Melissa Wike made a point to mention that the coronavirus pandemic could affect the budget moving forward.
“There are still many uncertainties surrounding our local budget. There could possibly be a state reversion. Additionally, our federal CARES funding may need to be redirected to address other needs as they arise,” Wike stated.
“As you all know, no one really knows how much it will cost to operate schools in our current environment, and we do not know what the future holds for our state and local funding,” she added.
I-SS usually adopts a final budget after the county and state have adopted theirs.
However, Wike said the district is still awaiting the state budget and has prepared a budget based on the information currently available.
With COVID-19, it is important to note there could be an uncertain effect on sales and property tax revenues. For example, if there is another stay-at-home order, sales tax collections could take a hit.
Proposed increase in local supplement under consideration
The board also approved a motion to have staff conduct a feasibility study for a half-percentage local supplement increase for all district employees for this year’s budget.
“Our primary goal is to start restoring some of the supplement,” explained Superintendent Jeff James. “If we had a little less uncertainty — our recommendation would have been to proceed tonight.”
Wike reminded the board that it would be a recurring cost and that could be a challenge in future budget years.
School board member Charles Kelly brought up the idea of redirecting funding into third grade classrooms. He mentioned having two teacher assistants in third grade classrooms to help ensure student can read on grade level.
“We need to be sure they can read by the time they get out of third grade,” Kelly said. “I think people know that one way to do that is put TAs in the third grade. You would have a much better chance making sure they would be able to read.”
Another priority the board discussed was having staff study the transportation budget. Chairman Martin Page believes the district could save money by making sure the transportation routes are as efficient as possible.
Child nutrition has also taken a financial hit because of the schools being closed. James said the school nutrition department relies heavily on supplemental sales, such as snack items, and staff will also do a cost analysis there, too.
Board members express frustration
Beyond that, some board members appeared frustrated with different aspects of the budget. One area that came under scrutiny was employing 20 additional teachers, which added $1.1 million in additional spending.
In previous discussions, school officials said the request was to address the General Assembly’s implementation of the K-3 class size reduction and cover projected growth in ADM (Average Daily Membership) or enrollment count.
The district receives projected enrollment figures to determine how many teachers are needed each year. School officials have explained that sometimes those numbers can be off or a school could see a decrease in enrollment and “lose” a teacher from state funding allotment.
In turn, the district would have to redirect funding to keep that particular teaching position.
“I’m really, really concerned about us getting a handle on our personnel — on the number of (teaching) positions. I’m telling you it will be the last time,” said board member Todd Carver.
Board member Ken Poindexter agreed.
“We have a finite amount of resources, and we want to maximize use of the resources,” Poindexter said.
Board member Bill Howell mentioned that the board approved hiring 10 additional teachers, but somehow 20 additional teachers were hired.
“I don’t know how that happened,” Howell said.
Board members also pointed out that most of the budget was largely decided before James came on board as the new superintendent in July.
“If we have overspent in certain areas, hiring teachers is a good place to overspend,” said Page.
Central office reductions
Three central office positions were eliminated, including the deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction, multi-tiered support systems director and English as a second language director.
As far as the deputy superintendent position, duties were spread out among Jonathan Ribbeck, executive director of elementary education, and Kelly Cooper, executive director of secondary education, along with increases to their salary last spring.
I-SS receives funding from several sources:
County Appropriation: $46,572,260
School Nutrition: $9,130,000
After School Care: $1,387,515
Direct Grants and Other: $4,217,507.29
Capital Outlay: $25,101,099.43
Some current expense highlights of the budget:
• Twenty additional teacher positions: $1.1 million
• Funds for charter schools: $754,000
• Startup funds for three schools for athletic uniforms and other needs: $176,000.
• Classified employees will receive a $500 one-time bonus: $409,000.
• All bus drivers will receive a one-step bump. This will put their starting pay at $13 an hour. Total cost to be determined.
• The budget includes six new nurse positions: $465,000.
• Two additional maintenance positions: $100,000.
• One technician position: $50,000