LUMBERTON — The Board of Education approved a tentative budget on Tuesday that cuts nearly $13 million — or 10 percent — from the Public Schools of Robeson County budget for the upcoming school year, and could mean the loss of about 140 teacher assistants.
The $222 million budget — $135 million of which comes from the state — is based a funding plan that has been approved by the state House. However, the state Senate must also present its plan, and then the two chambers will get together and present a compromised budget to the governor, whose signature is required before it becomes law.
Erica Setzer, the system’s chief finance officer, said that the cuts could get deeper once the Senate’s proposal is considered.
“We would not be able to function without a reduction in staff at a 10 percent decrease or more,” Setzer said.
She estimated that approximately 170 positions would be lost if the House budget eventually got Gov. Perdue’s signature.
“The loss of these jobs is like losing an industry in the area,” Superintendent Johnny Hunt said.
The areas in most danger of losing state funding are: teacher assistants, with a decrease in funding of about 50 percent, causing the loss of 139 positions; school technology, where funding was completely eliminated; instructional supplies, reduced by nearly half; and driver’s education, reduced by 25 percent.
Setzer said the House bill leaves funding intact for teacher salaries. The local budget actually adds one teacher’s position.
Hunt told the board members that there is talk in the General Assembly of a preserving a 1-cent sales tax increase that is scheduled to sunset. According to Setzer, the single-cent tax, if it remains, would generate $1.3 billion for the state.
“I don’t know why they don’t just do it,” Hunt said. “It would take some burden from the schools.”
Hunt and Setzer agreed that until the Senate presents a budget, all the school system can do is wait and anticipate.
“Any cuts will certainly hurt students in the long run,” Setzer said.
Hunt told the board members that a school budget must be presented to the county Board of Commissioners before it meets on Monday.
This new wave of potential cuts comes a month after the board voted to leave vacant seven central office positions and cut the amount of money individual schools will receive for supplies and equipment. According to Setzer, the seven positions will save close to $500,000 a year.
In other business Tuesday, the board:
— Approved a budget amendment that transfers about $1 million for 18 unfilled teacher positions to cover transportation costs for the current school year.
— Approved a four-day work week for teachers and central office personnel during the summer, beginning June 13 through the first week in August. This is designed to save electricity costs.
— Approved a computer recycling program with Creative Recycling Services, which will pick up and recycle the equipment.
— Approved the payment of $75,000 for a tap-on fee for the city of Pembroke’s sewer line to Union Chapel School.
— Recognized Holly Brisson, a senior at Lumberton High School, as the first student in the county to reach the platinum level in the career readiness certification.
— Recognized Zenetta Strickland, a four-year teacher at Union Elementary, as the certified Employee of the Month; Margie Herthel, who works with the Finance Department and in systems operations, was recognized as the classified Employee of the Month; and Erlaine Dinnerson, an 11-year bus driver, was recognized as the Bus Driver of the Month.
— Recognized members of the state and regional Battle of the Books winners. The regional third- and fourth-grade winners were from Tanglewood Elementary. The fifth-grade winners were from Littlefield Middle School and the sixth- through eighth-grade winners were from Pembroke Middle School. The team from Pembroke Middle was additionally recognized for placing second in the state competition.
— Staff writer Ali Rockett can be reached at (910) 272-6127 or email@example.com.