It can wait right up to the deadline to do so, but district finance director Lynn Lawson said that’s not the preferred option. Although, with a budget year that is forcing the district to look at some tough decisions — including the elimination of several teaching positions — it could be sometime in June before a school district budget is actually set.
Bracing for yet another cut in funding before the district approves a FY 2011 budget, Lawson and new superintendent Dr. Kristi Woodall should be able to bring a rough draft of the budget to board members by the second meeting in May at the latest but still might not be sure of what they will have to work with in the next fiscal year.
The cuts in recent years to education across the state have been due to a “perfect storm” of circumstances, according to Lawson who said a continued economic downturn which has contributed to people not being able to pay property taxes and a decrease in sales tax — the main source of funding for the state and therefore school districts that rely heavily on state funding to operate.
Union County has already made some hard decisions to cope with a budget that looks to be at fiscal year 1994-95 levels or lower in 2010-11 and currently is continuing the process to balance its budget.
No matter what the district has to do, that budget must be balanced.
“We have to meet all those deadlines, but we also have to present them (the school board) with a balanced budget,” Lawson said.
Balancing the budget means looking at all of the district’s options, including the cutting of personnel.
Woodall said teacher contracts have already gone out and been signed for next school year and administrator contracts will be sent out next week. With 85 percent of the school district’s budget tied to personnel and 21 percent being cut from the state’s education funding, she said it was hard not to look at personnel this year as a place to find savings.
And those are the most difficult decisions to make.
“Personnel is something you never want to cut,” Woodall said, adding with the level of cuts forced upon the state’s school districts in the last few years, “you’re in personnel whether you want to be or not.”
“You’d love to keep everybody intact, but the numbers are what they are,” Woodall said.
The district is making all the decisions it can — as are the rest of the school districts in the state — to make sure it maintains those budget items critical to the education of the county’s children.
That is the No. 1 priority of the district.
It’s also a priority near and dear to Lawson and Woodall who both have children receiving their education from the Union County district, own homes in Union County and pay taxes here.
“We are making decisions that in some way affect all of us,” Lawson said.
“We are in the district,” Woodall said.
So the decisions the district makes has just as much impact on them as it does on the rest of the people who live, work and raise children in Union County.
And despite the budget shortfalls, Woodall said — while there might be a few less programs offered — the Union County School District is keeping the education of its future at the forefront of all decisions.
“Our first priority is to protect the classrooms,” the new superintendent said. “That’s where it happens. We will not compromise the education we provide our children in this county. We will provide a quality education.”