Yancey County Schools Works to Maintain Quality Educational Programs Despite Budget Concerns

posted Sep 14, 2018, 10:15 AM by Xan Robinson

Yancey County Schools is working hard to maintain stable learning environments for students, consistent work environments for Yancey County School employees, and a responsible budget despite low revenues.

Three revenue sources - state, federal, and local- provide large portions of general operating funding for Yancey County Schools.  The majority of state funding is based on yearly student enrollment figures or average daily membership.  Declining student enrollment in past years has caused a decrease in the number of state-funded positions awarded to Yancey County Schools on a yearly basis. According to information from the NC Department of Public Instruction, from the 2011 – 12 school year until the present, Yancey County Schools lost approximately 44 full-time positions from cafeteria staff to teachers; 12 of the losses were full-time, state-funded teaching positions.  Rather than eliminating essential positions during this time period, the decision was made to continue employment for as long as financially affordable.  This intentional decision has allowed students more stable and effective learning environments and has allowed our valued employees steady, continuous employment.  Quality employees, at every level, are essential for student success. 

Other decreases in funding include State Low Wealth funding (not awarded beginning in 2012-13) and federal funding in Title I and Title II. These decreases along with increases in benefits like health insurance, retirement plans, and modest state-salary increases placed additional strain on Yancey County School budgets.  Yancey County Schools has requested additional funding yearly, but not all requests could be granted.  Local funds were provided for one-to-one Chromebooks at the high school as well as teacher supplies and teacher supplements across the district. Yancey County Board of Education and Yancey County Commissioners are partners in open and frank conversations regarding school system needs and funding.  It is important to note that the funds for the new Blue Ridge Elementary School are provided from Capital Outlay Sales Tax Revenue, Public School Capital Building Fund, Lottery Proceeds and funds obtained by the county.  All of these funds are restricted for public school capital outlay needs. State and local funds are for general operation (salaries, instructional needs, general operations) of our school system. 

How did Yancey County Schools pay the cost of funding lost positions as well as other additional expenses?  A source known as “fund balance” was used.  What is fund balance?  According to Yancey County Schools Finance Office, “fund balance” might be explained as “liquid assets” accumulated by a school system to assist with cash flow or emergencies, somewhat like having savings.  An amount equal to three months operating costs is desired to be on-hand for Yancey County Schools.  During 2012 – 13 school year, fund balance was recorded as 2.5 million dollars.  At the end of the 2017 – 18 school year, according to figures from Yancey County Schools Finance Department, fund balance was approximately $400,000.  Over the six-year period from 12 -13 through17-18, an average of $350,000 was needed yearly from fund balance to make ends meet. During budget planning sessions for the 2018 – 19 school year, the anticipated need from fund balance was estimated at $350,000, leaving approximately $50,000 projected for the end of the 2018 – 19 school year.  In addition, Yancey County Schools, along with other public-school systems, will be liable for retirement expenses for the superintendent. This expense was implemented by legislation passed in 2014.  The estimated cost to Yancey County Schools for our superintendent is $100,000.    Based on budget needs, adjustments were required.  Using fund balance as the payment source for yearly expenses like salaries is no longer feasible. 

Efforts are in place to establish a more stable “fund balance.” Discussions are on-going among Yancey County Schools Superintendent, Yancey County Board of Education, Yancey County Schools administrators, Yancey County Schools Finance and Human Resource Offices, Yancey County Commissioners, and others, to make this improvement.  Strategies to improve fund balance include examining retirements and resignations before rehiring to ensure that revenues from grants, federal, state, and local funding are adequate to pay for each and every position; restructuring and consolidating staff assignments when possible; and finding day-to-day expenses that can be reduced.

To be clear, the Yancey County Board of Education is deeply troubled by the inability to hire needed positions due to lack of funds.   Losing positions and services impacts our strong educational programs.  For example, middle and high school class-size increases may become necessary.  The ability to continue honors and Advanced Placement courses may be impacted as well.  In another example, a school nurse position eliminated for the 2018 – 19 school year due to lack of funds was reinstated when a one-year- grant completed by school nursing staff was received.  Yancey County Schools will continue to be proactive in applying for grants and in seeking increases from state and local sources to maintain the high-quality programs that meet the needs of students, families, and staff.