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School board reviews budget
Enrollment up, though funding down
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Forsyth County News

Enrollment continues to rise as the amount of revenue falls for the Forsyth County school system.

Those forces remain the largest challenge facing Finance Director Dan Jones and his staff as they assemble the fiscal year 2013 budget.

Projected revenue is not enough to cover the proposed $268.3 million budget, falling short by nearly $5.2 million.

“This is the same level of revenue that we generated back in 2007-2008 and since then we’ve added about 8,000 students,” Jones told the local board Thursday. “We continue to grow.”

The work session was the first time the board had seen the projections. It is scheduled to approve a preliminary budget during its meeting May 17.

Chairman Tom Cleveland said he was impressed by how the human resources and finance departments were able to prepare for the new Kelly Mill Elementary School without increasing costs.

“Opening yet another school [in August], because we are growing, and doing it without increasing staff, that’s just amazing,” he said.

Jones said that was among the biggest challenges to “cover that cost and still sort of keep a lid on the budget.”

However, despite making cuts, Jones said there was no other way to cover the $5.2 million shortfall without pulling money from the system’s fund balance.

“We’ve gone through the budget and made any cuts we felt like we could make,” he said.

The school district also tapped into its fund balance, or reserves, last year to cover a deficit.

While the tax digest, or total property values on which tax collections are based, hasn’t been finalized for the year, early estimates show a decline of about 2.94 percent.

For the school system, that means a drop in revenue of nearly $3.8 million, Jones said. It would mark the fourth year in a row the digest has fallen.

The proposed spending plan maintains a 178-day school year for students. Like previous budgets, it also doesn’t include across-the-board pay or step increases for employees.

There are increases in some areas, including a mandated employer health insurance share, which lifts the budget by $2.65 million, and contributions to the teachers’ retirement system, adding another $1.75 million in costs.

Jones said there are two major budget hikes not mandated by the state: a $651,000 annual cost to lease computers for three years to replace those at least five years old; and $390,000 for occupational and physical therapy for students with disabilities.

Forsyth County School Superintendent Buster Evans said the finance team has “worked to be really, really responsible throughout this process.”

“Every one of our departments has continued to have to ask the question, ‘what can you not do that you have been doing,’” he said. “I don’t think that if we really wanted to say we’re committed to providing the best quality education that we can cut anything else.”