The Orange County Schools Board of Education approved the 2018-19 budget last Monday, June 25. 

The county commissioner-approved school funding increase will not be enough to continue consistent operations within the district through the 2018-19 year. Orange County schools need a $396 increase per pupil, which factored in state mandated salary and benefit increases and class size reductions. Commissioners were able to fund an increase of $174 per pupil, a $222 deficit per student accounting to a $1.6 million district budget shortfall for the upcoming year. This deficit left the district to seek budget cuts and pinches where possible. In this process, staff sought to reduce expenses with “minimal direct impact to students,” a statement from Orange County Schools noted.

Budget cuts were made, but the board also allocated fund balance money to continue certain programs and positions they felt needed to be continued for another year. 

Netting close to $250,000 in budget savings, both traditional and year-long teacher assistant workday calendars will be reduced from 215 work days to 201. The board opted to decrease work days rather than remove teacher assistant positions. 

For another budget savings of $217,000, the class size ratio for 4th through 8th graders will be changed to a teacher to student ratio of 1:27. 

Multiple vacant positions throughout the school system, including two central office director positions and “a limited number” of school-based support positions, will be frozen or removed. This nets another $515,000 in savings.

Lastly, each district department will cut their operating budget by 1 percent.

Overall, these reductions amount to $982,000.

Though the meeting required tightening the budget, funds were distributed from the fund balance account to save a few programs and support positions the board deemed necessary.

The fund balance is a savings account that the district has, traditionally used for one-time large expenses, often in case of emergency. These funds also help with technology upgrades, emergency renovations and used in order to continued unfunded programs.

Money is allocated to the fund balance through lapsed salaries from vacant positions and frozen positions. The fund balance is 5.5 percent of the districts operating budget, according to policies in place by the Orange County Board of Commissioners. 

The Orange County Schools fund balance remains close to $1.3-1.4 million unassigned funds. The money remains in that balance in case of large-ticket item emergencies, according to Superintendent Dr. Todd Wirt. For example, after the major storms that devastated schools in Guilford County, the fund balance would be used to repair the building.

This fund also serves as a front for federal funds until they are received in the fall after school begins.

Last Monday, the board allocated $100,000 from this fund balance to continue the Universal Breakfast Program, which provides free breakfast everyday for all kindergarten through fifth grade students.

They also used $362,000 from the fund to continue the position of one reading teacher at each of the elementary schools in the district.

Along the process of determining budget savings, the board evaluated support positions such as reading teachers, literacy coaches, and digital learning coaches. The board felt that they needed to use this one-time funding to keep these reading teachers in place for this year, and would reevaluate in a year if budget saving cuts are necessary again.