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Ashe schools set sights on budget battle

Originally published: Mar. 14, 2013
Last modified: Mar. 14, 2013

Adam Orr

Although the 2013-2014 school year won’t officially begin for more than five months, Ashe County Schools is already laying the groundwork for next year’s budget. 

“Hopefully, we’ll have the budget (from the North Carolina General Assembly) sometime early in June,” said Assistant Superintendent of Ashe County Schools Phyllis Yates, who also serves as the Ashe County Schools finance officer. “After that, we’ll find out from the county.” 

Following the nation’s slide into recession in 2008, Yates, like other districts across North Carolina, has been forced to craft district budgets with fewer state dollars.

At this time in 2012, Yates and Ashe County Schools were bracing for a $2.2 million funding gap — a $1.1 million reduction in discretionary funding, a cost-saving measure state legislators use to allow local school systems to determine appropriate budget areas to cut, and $1.1 million in additional state and federal funding the system received from 2008-2011. 

“We had some cushion there, with the federal funds,” said Yates in a February 2012 interview. 

Yates has calculated this year’s proposed discretionary reversion at more than $786,000, slightly larger than last year’s final figure of $756,447, and the district is also staring at a possible 10 percent cut in federal funding lost as Washington lawmakers negotiate automatic budget cuts that went into effect on March 1. 

Mandatory federal spending cuts first proposed in the Budget Control Act of 2011, aka the “fiscal cliff,” could mean that the Ashe County School System could lose up to 8.2 percent of its federal funding if Washington lawmakers and the president can’t reach an agreement on some mix of tax hikes and spending cuts before the end of December. 

Cuts are projected to reach $1.2 trillion during that time span, with $109 billion in cuts forecast for 2013 alone, and are designed to be evenly split between defense and discretionary domestic spending, although cuts to war spending and most entitlements (including Social Security and Medicaid) are off limits.  

Although the possibility remains Congress could reach a deal that would restore education funding, Interim Superintendent of Ashe County Schools Donnie Johnson has been told the system could expect to lose from 6 to 9 percent of its funding, according to Yates, who said she is preparing for a deeper cut. 

“This is still subject to change, but we’re going to go ahead and just forecast a cut of 10 percent, to hopefully have a little cushion there,” Yates said. “The money that we have been allocated (for 2012 to 2013) is fine, but the money over the next two years becomes the question. We’ve got that 10 percent cut cushioned in, but once that’s gone, its gone.” 

Yates also said the district has received funding requests from each of the county’s five schools and each department director. 

According to a budget calendar provided by Yates, combined budget sessions with the Ashe County Board of Education and Ashe County Schools administrators will begin later in March, including the development of a priority list for the Ashe County Board of Commissioners. 

The BOE will then approve a final proposed budget sometime in April.

“At that point, the budget is sent to county commissioners,” Yates said.

For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.