Schools could lose more than $600,000
Last modified: Aug. 29
Ashe County Schools could be in danger of losing a significant funding stream next year, according to Rep. Jonathan Jordan.
“I helped protect Ashe County (schools) from losing $300,000 to $400,000 this year, but we’re going to have to worry about that transition period in the future,” Jordan told the Ashe County Board of Commissioners on Aug. 19.
At issue is more than $1.5 million county schools rely on each year as part of the state’s small school supplemental funding, according to Assistant Superintendent of Ashe County Schools Phyllis Yates.
“We feel fortunate about Ashe County receiving small county funding,” Yates told the Ashe County Board of Education on Aug. 5. “That has been a saving grace for us. When other school systems were cutting folks ... we had enough money to cover that.”
Small school supplemental funding is calculated, in part, on the district’s Average Daily Membership, an average figure the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction considers a more accurate count of the number of students in school than enrollment.
Funding is available for districts with an ADM of 3,239 students or less. In the most recent year, Ashe County Schools had an ADM of 3,196.
“We’ve always been in that upper range for the funding,” Yates said. “Going over that number would mean we would phase that funding out over a seven-year period.”
The funding formula, which Yates said was complicated, also incorporates a variety of other variables including county surface area and tax rate, and property values.
“More than 20 of the state’s school districts receive small county supplemental funding, because they are at such a level that they don’t have economies of scale,” Jordan said.
Jordan said he was told in his first term in the state house to “keep an eye,” on changes to the supplemental funding formula, and said that advice paid off in the 2013 long session when legislators contemplated making formula changes.
“The change this year to Ashe County would have been dramatic,” Jordan said. “We’re already one of the largest in that (supplemental funding) group.”
Yates said the change would have cost the district more than $307,000 this year — money that would have been lost after the district had made its funding request to the Ashe County Board of Commissioners, and was scheduled to lose more than $614,000 in 2014/15.
“We went to (Sen. Dan Soucek) and explained that we had already requested our funding, and had our employment numbers set,” Yates explained. “That would have been a big cut, and the timing would have been worse.”
Yates said legislators ultimately decided to hold the supplemental funding steady at $1.5 million, but said she has continued fears about the district’s future funding.
“Obviously nothing is set in stone yet, but in our conversations with the state, we may not fare so well in the future,” Yates said.
And cuts could have a significant impact on personnel, Yates said. A first year teacher, for example, costs the district $42,966, including salary and benefits.
Should the district lose the scheduled $614,370 first forecast, it could mean the loss of more than 14 teachers.
“We just depend on that money so much to keep people employed,” Yates said.
The supplemental funding has been particularly useful in an uncertain budget climate, Yates said, because it can be used to fund anything except central office administration, including teachers and teacher assistants.
“That’s really how we’ve been able to keep our class size down in Ashe County, which other school systems have not been doing, because we’ve had that extra money,” Yates said.
The funding has also been used for custodial and support staff, according to Yates, who said the district does not get enough funding in those areas.
“If there was any money left over, we’ve also used it for software and computers,” Yates said.
Jordan said lawmakers had considered raising the ADM ceiling, but said that also would have impacted the district as well.
“When you add more counties to a stable pot of money, each one gets less and that would have hurt us as well,” Jordan said.