A closer look at CCS’s 2021-22 budget for $123.6 million

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PITTSBORO — The Chatham County Schools Board of Education has approved a budget resolution for the 2021-22 school year, containing reconciled budgets for the state public school, local current expense, federal grants, capital outlay, child nutrition and the other local current expense funds.

The initial budget totals $123.6 million, an 11% increase from the school system’s 2020-21 $111.2 million budget uploaded to the district’s website.

Tony Messer, CCS’s chief finance officer, presented the budget resolution to the board at its meeting last Monday. The budget, he said, includes an increase in local budget and federal funds and a decrease in state funds. Last year’s state funds were “kind of inflated” by COVID-relief funds, he said.

“I stand before you tonight for the third year in a row with a budget resolution that the state does not have a budget in place,” Messer said. “Some of the factors that we took into consideration in putting this budget resolution together were COVID-19 implications, of course, no state budget in place, staffing shortages, employee salary supplement and employee benefits.”

More than three months into the new fiscal year, North Carolina still doesn’t have a budget in place. The House and Senate have passed versions of the budget but are still negotiating with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to avoid a veto. It’s unclear how much the budget will include toward education once it’s approved, though the CCS budget currently includes $57 million from the state public school fund, or 46% of the district’s budget.

Early versions of the budget provided only a small portion of the 7-year, $5.6 billion Leandro plan agreed to by the State Board of Education, Cooper’s Administration and the Leandro case plaintiffs. The case was initially filed in 1994 by low-wealth school districts to get more state education funding. On Monday, State Superior Court Judge David Lee said he could compel the General Assembly to fund a $1.7 billion plan for new school funding over the next two years, but would wait until Nov. 8 to issue a court order.

The state currently has a budget surplus of more than $6 billion.

“While operating the 2021-2022 school year without a state budget, local funding has once again eased but not eliminated current budget constraints with funding in areas such as operations, technology, supplements and capital outlay,” the district’s agenda read regarding the budget resolution. “Even without a state budget in place, we anticipate slight changes in allotments throughout the year which will be presented in budget amendments later in the fiscal year.

“We are monitoring budget news and its impacts on the district coming from the General Assembly and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction on a daily basis.”

The local budget funds total around $40 million, up 6% from last fiscal year and 37% of the district’s total budget, up from 33% the year prior. The increase is due to the opening of Seaforth High School and an anticipated increase in employee salary supplements. Though local counties can supplement what the state provides for operations, they are responsible for funding school construction and maintenance.

The federal funds total $16 million, up significantly due to COVID-relief funding. Typically, Messer said, federal funds range from $3.5 to $4 million per year.

“And the good news here,” Messer told the board, “just a reminder that Chatham is ranked seventh in the state with local funding and 49th overall.”

The budget also includes a slight increase in its school nutrition funding, at $4.7 million, in anticipation of an increase in meals served. The district provided the most meals in its history last month, serving over $600,000 in reimbursable meals. The increase in meals provided comes at a time when staffing shortages are requiring the district to be creative to offer school services to students.

“If that pace keeps up — I mean, you can do the math — $4.7 million will be well under budget,” he said. “So kids are definitely eating in the cafeteria.”

You can view the full budget resolution here.

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.


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