The financial side of operating a large school district is often out of the public’s eye and can be difficult to understand, but our school system’s commitment to allocating resources appropriately to achieve our educational goals for children is always in plain view.
With over 22,000 students in our schools every day, Alamance-Burlington Schools ranks as the 16th largest school district in North Carolina, putting us within the top 15% in size among the state’s 115 city and county districts. We sit squarely among four of the top ten largest school districts in North Carolina, all situated within an easy commute on the I-40/85 corridor (Wake, Durham, Guilford, and Forsyth).
Budget forecasts for 2013-2014 are still in the preliminary phase. Currently, our operating budget sits at $180 million, a $4 million reduction from last year, with 65% of our funding from the state of North Carolina, 11% from the federal government, 21% from local funding, and 3% from other grants.
Nearly eighty-three percent of our total operating budget pays for employee salaries and benefits. Of this 83%, 86% goes toward salaries and benefits for instructional positions. Most other school districts report a lower percentage going to instructional positions (closer to 75%), indicating that more funds in Alamance-Burlington are allocated directly to classrooms to benefit student instruction, not to administrative positions.
The effects of state, federal and local budget issues have been both cumulative and consuming for five annual budget cycles. Much information about the state budget for public education is difficult for many to understand, including the terms reversion and discretionary cuts. A reversion means that funding appears on our district’s budget allocation from the state at the beginning of the school year, but our school system is required to return or revert a specified amount back. A discretionary cut means that our school district makes the decision about where cuts will be made in our budget before reverting funds back to the state. Both terms can be summed up succinctly as “funds our schools will never see”.
Look back 5 years to 2008-2009. Since then, Alamance-Burlington has been required to revert a sobering combined total of $21.3 million from our annual budget allocations back to the state’s general fund.
Going forward, information from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Allotment Section projects our reversion for the 2013-2014 year at over $5.5 million.
Locally, our schools also experienced a reduction in funding this year of nearly $2.3 million in operational and capital operating allotments from Alamance County. These dollars are essential in helping to fund necessary maintenance expenses and repairs at our 36 school sites. We have requested that this allotment be restored to the 2010-2011 school year level.
Federal stimulus funds for the past 3 years have been critical in helping school districts like ours avoid massive personnel layoffs by offsetting large funding reductions from the state. In ABSS, 86% of these funds allocated from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), Race to the Top, and EduJobs were directed to help cover existing employee salaries and benefits when state dollars fell short. Even with the addition of federal stimulus dollars, Alamance-Burlington has cut 207 staff positions since 2007 with nearly 90% of those colleagues working directly with children in classrooms. The temporary federal funding source ended on June 30, 2012, leaving a budget shortfall of $4.3 million for the 2012-2013 school year. ABSS managed to fill the $4.3 million gap by using some of our district’s carefully-saved dollars.
We have remained determined during the past five years to forecast and weather this stormy period, focused on setting aside rainy day funds to safeguard educational opportunities for children. Our Board of Education set priorities and pledged $5.9 million in reserve funds to the current year’s operating budget to protect classrooms and avoid teacher and staff layoffs. When our current school year ends in June, our carefully-saved reserves could be reduced as low as $5.8 million; just 3% of our annual operating budget. To put that in perspective, $5.8 million equals about two weeks of operating funds for our schools.
With our priorities of protecting classrooms and preserving positions in plain view, we will continue to allocate all available resources appropriately to advance our district’s mission for children: “Providing engaging work for our students will enable our district to educate all students to meet high academic standards and become responsible citizens in a rapidly changing world.”
Lillie Cox, Ed. D.