Caldwell County Schools ask county for additional $339,000, but may only get $50,000

Jun. 09, 2013 @ 08:45 AM

The Caldwell County Schools have requested an increase of $339,000 from the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners for their 2013-14 budget, but they’ll get only $50,000 of it if the county manager’s recommended budget passes.

Of that requested amount, $239,000 would be a recurring addition to its budget allocation from the county, which the schools would spend on new custodial positions and on salary and benefits for locally paid employees. That would amount to a 2 percent increase, to $14.74 million from the $14.4 million the school system received from the county in 2012-13.

The school system is also making a one-time request for $100,000 for the Patterson Science Center -- $50,000 for renovations and $50,000 for programming and travel.

County Manager Stan Kiser’s proposed budget calls for a $50,000 increase for the school system, and no allocation for the science center.

About $140,000 of the $239,000 requested would be used to add four custodial positions. As state funds have shrunk, custodial positions have been left vacant -- and schools across the county are starting to see the effects.

"We are really, really beginning to see some more wear and tear on the buildings, and we don't have the staff to maintain them in the way we are accustomed to, or as the public expects," Stone said.

That "wear and tear" can mean buildings aren't as clean as they once were -- and that other employees are pitching in to complete custodial tasks, Assistant Superintendent for Auxiliary Services Jeff Church said. At several schools, the school system sends members of its maintenance crew to cut grass. At others, teachers help with smaller tasks, like bagging garbage.

The Caldwell County Schools currently employ 64 full- and part-time custodians. Together, they are responsible for nearly 2 million square feet of property, Church said -- and attempting to keep up with that square footage without a full staff can be difficult.

"We can tell a difference in some of our facilities, in the cleanliness," Church said. "That's not to say that folks aren't doing their jobs, but that there's a lot of square footage to clean, and the staff's not there to do it like it was done previously. Our staff works hard -- under the circumstances, they're doing a very good job."

The school needs the rest (around $99,000) of the $239,000 to help pay employees, Stone said. Of the school system’s 1,800 employees, 169 are paid through local funds (not federal, state or enterprise).

In 2013-14, the school system will face higher employer contributions for insurance and retirement.

The Caldwell County Schools will also be affected by raises (if there are any) provided for state employees. Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed a 1 percent raise, and legislators are still hashing out their proposals.

If the state’s final budget provides a raise, local school districts will need to match it for their locally paid employees, who are still state employees. There are 169 in the Caldwell County Schools.

The school system also hopes to grow the Patterson Science Center in 2013-14, charging a fee to schools and individuals who come from other counties to use it. Stone presented that as an economic driver for the county when he made his funding request, saying people who came to the county to visit the science center would also eat in its restaurants and shop in its stores.

Kiser said the full request is beyond the county’s reach for 2013-14. When the economy was better, it was easier to grant higher increases to the school system, he said.

The county has offered some level of increase to the school system since at least 2004, said Karla Miller, finance officer for Caldwell County Schools.

In 2006, the Caldwell County Schools received a $310,000 increase from the county. In 2009, the increase was down to $200,000. Since 2010, the increases have held at $50,000.

“As the economy got worse, some counties held school systems even,” Kiser said. “But we have tried for the last several years to give them some amount of increase every year.”

Stone said he believes the school system needs the $239,000 increase and the funds for the science center, but he’s grateful for the continuing increases offered by the commissioners.

“Caldwell County has been very good to its public schools,” he said.

Whether or not the schools receive the full requested increase, increases in employee salaries and benefits will still have to be funded. The school system also hopes to add custodial positions even if they don’t receive the full $239,000.

They’d draw from their local fund balance for both, Stone said. For the Patterson Science Center, they’d seek grant funding.

The county budget is scheduled for a public hearing at the next commissioners’ meeting on June 17, and may pass that night. The county is required to adopt its 2013-14 budget by July 1.