June 26, 2008

Budget Cuts for Schools Up in the Air


GREENSBORO -- It's unlikely that board members will know tonight whether Guilford County Schools will face a reduction in state funding of at least $2.4 million.

Sharon Ozment, chief finance officer for Guilford schools, plans to seek board approval of an interim operating budget as legislators try to reconcile the House and Senate budgets.

The school board's meeting follows a warning this week that school systems could face a shortfall of $50 million or more.

A version of the state budget released Monday left a shortage of $67 million for teacher bonuses and diesel fuel, which has skyrocketed in the past year.

If the state cuts district budgets by $50 million -- as suggested Monday -- that would mean a $2.4 million loss for Guilford or 41 teaching positions, Ozment said.

North Carolina educators still hope the legislature will cover rising fuel costs. An education appropriation committee could release revised numbers this week, said Philip Price, associate superintendent for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

"We've had some very encouraging news from our liaison," Price said.

"I don't know if it's going to be enough."

Meanwhile, Guilford County Schools officials are re-evaluating bus routes, trying to save as much fuel money as possible. The district spent $4.3 million on diesel from July to May, up from $2.9 million from July 2006 through June 2007.

"Prices have gone up just like for your car and my car," said Derek Graham, section chief of transportation services for the Department of Public Instruction. "The state budget was not developed anticipating those types of increases."

Graham said the state typically pays 90 percent of school systems' busing costs. The state paid districts up to $2.80 per gallon this past school year, even though the district saw diesel costs of $3.80 per gallon in May.

Districts buy fuel in bulk through a state contract and don't have to pay the 30-cent per gallon excise tax that residents and businesses do.

Guilford County Schools budgeted $860,688 this spring for diesel, a 9 percent increase over last year. County commissioners voted last week to spend $175.2 million on Guilford County Schools, a $10 million increase over the previous year. The district originally requested a $15.8 million increase and planned on a total budget of $650 million.

Contact Morgan Josey Glover at 373-7078 or [email protected] record.com

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