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HCS budgets for a declining student population

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, schools in North Carolina have not suffered budget cuts due to declining student populations in all areas. Now, as the pandemic takes a back seat to the daily lives of many, schools are being held accountable for their actual per diem numbers. For schools in Haywood County, that means there is less money available.

“The biggest problem is the reduced number of students in a very short time,” Nolte said.

During a work session on March 31, Nolte presented a draft budget to the school board. He painted the picture of a school system that would suddenly receive a funding cut in the coming year due to a dwindling student population, dwindling COVID relief funds and required salary increases. by the state budget, but which would nevertheless be in good shape, thanks in part to a healthy fund balance.

“It’s kind of frustrating when, as superintendent, I feel like we’ve done everything, during the pandemic, that the federal government, the state government and the local community wanted us to do. “, said Nolte. “Now that state and federal money is being pulled out quickly, I’m not sure a lot of the school systems that did what we did will have an easy transition.”

Despite the loss of COVID funds, Nolte made it clear that the biggest hurdle for schools in Haywood County is the declining student population. Public schools receive a certain amount for each student enrolled, and HCS enrollment has declined by nearly 500 students since the start of 2019. In the 2019-2020 school year, 7,100 students were enrolled in the system. This school year, 6,557 students were enrolled. .

These enrollment figures do not include students from Haywood’s charter schools. Although the county’s charter schools have gained students since the pandemic began, according to Nolte, they haven’t gained half the students that Haywood County public schools have lost.

For every student enrolled, the school system receives approximately $2,300 locally and over $7,000 statewide.

Nolte also described falling birth rates in Haywood County. According to the superintendent, birth rates are generally closely tied to the number of children entering the school system within five to six years. From 2016 to 2019, the number of births in Haywood County was as follows: 616, 617, 540, 525.

“So unless we have a rapid influx of families with school-age children, we can’t expect our student population to start growing because of the birth rate,” Nolte said. “I am showing you all of this to let you know that this is the responsible and necessary thing to do to ensure that our school system is the size, financially and in personnel, of a school system that has 6,500 students instead of more than 7,000.”

One consequence of this loss of funds is the need for fewer locally funded teachers. Haywood County currently funds 34 teachers locally. The budget for the 2022-23 school year allocates just over $1.2 million to locally funded teachers, up from $1.8 million for the current school year, which would cover 13 teachers and two lead teachers , as well as their benefits and allowances. According to Nolte, this is the budgetary objective for the next school year but it will depend on retirements and resignations.

Other major local expenses include central office administration at just over $1 million, non-teaching support at just over $7 million, and employee supplements at over $3 million. Total expenditures for the local current expenditures budget are $18,277,556, which is $1.5 million more than the previous year.

Just over $16.5 million will come from county appropriations, $345,000 from fines and forfeitures, $24,000 from ABC revenue and $1.1 million from the fund balance. Although HCS has set aside more than $1 million in fund balance, Nolte said the school system has consistently used less fund balance than expected in past years and plans to do the same next year. next.

Total capital expenditures for the 2022-23 school year are $900,000. This amount will allow the school system to meet eight of its most pressing needs. Generator to be replaced at Clyde Elementary, spare Bard units for maintenance, new exterior doors at Meadowbrook Elementary, new water heater at Pisgah, new fire alarm panel at Riverbend Elementary, paving repairs at various schools, a new roof in the Waynesville Middle cafeteria and a new gymnasium floor also at Waynesville Middle School. The capital budget is funded by state sales tax money.

The total school nutrition fund for the 2022-2023 school year is $5.2 million. The infant nutrition program operates independently from other programs. The budget for the coming school year shows an increase of 3.25%.

“It’s hard to look at past trends in budgeting for this year,” said school nutrition director Allison Francis. “We had the luxury of being able to feed children other than our students and that helped us with our income, and that disappears from June 30. The exemption for all students to eat for free also disappears.

Labor and benefits make up 52% ​​of the school nutrition budget, food and supplies make up 39%, and overhead 8%. Salary increases mandated in the state budget added about $162,000 to the labor and benefits portion of the budget.

Due to an increase in food prices, the HCS Nutrition Department recently announced an increase in school meal prices. Breakfast cost increased to $2, K-5 lunch increased to $3.50, and Grade 6-12 lunch increased to $3.75.

The 2022-2023 Haywood County Schools Budget was unanimously approved at the April 4 school board meeting.