County budget OK’d; schools still facing cuts

By on May 3, 2011

School officials were left to look for as much as $1.3 million in additional cuts after the Dare Board of Commissioners approved a $99.6 million countywide budget Monday.

Commissioners declined to give the school system more money, saying they had fulfilled their obligation for local education funding by keeping spending at current levels.

County Manager Bobby Outten proposed covering $327,895 of the school system’s shortfall. But commissioners chose instead to look for ways to save by consolidating county and school services such as groundskeeping and contract work.

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Those savings would go into a special account for the school system.

Before the vote, Ben Sproul, vice chairman and incoming chairman of the Board of Education, made an appeal for budget relief, saying that “to cut any deeper, we would not be able to spare current personnel.”

“And if we go any deeper, the erosion of our quality of service would accelerate dramatically,” he said.

Outten said the $327,895 represented the portion of the shortfall that could be considered a county expense. It included increases in retirement and health insurance for locally funded teaching positions, fuel and utilities.

“Dare County, again, is not cutting any spending, we’re not cutting any funding for education at all in the proposed budget,” Outten said. “Any cuts, any revenue problems that they have on their end are all coming from either the state or the federal level.”

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Outten’s proposal was to take the money from the county’s undesignated balance, or savings account. He said the county could still stay well below the 3 percent it had been using from savings in recent years.

Commissioners instead directed the county and schools finance officers to look into the idea of consolidating services.

In his presentation, Sproul said that the school system had initially faced a budget gap of $3.28 million. The shortfall came from cuts in state money, loss of federal stimulus funds and obligatory new costs, he said.

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The Board of Education, Sproul said, was able to prune that to $1.3 million with additional cuts and $750,000 in stimulus money it had set aside last year.

For fiscal year 2011-2012, the total school budget is $50.5 million. Of that, $18.87 million was budgeted by the county, the same as the current fiscal year, for which education had received a $758,000 increase.

Sproul said after the meeting that school officials would look for still more cuts. He said he did not want the prospect of job losses to be hanging over teachers but was not sure how much more savings could come from attrition.

The new budget includes no tax increases. The property tax rate was increased 2 cents per $100 to 28 cents in the current budget. The budget year starts July 1.

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