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Columbus County Schools struggle with budget shortfall

Columbus County Schools struggle with budget shortfall
Updated: Apr. 18, 2018 at 5:31 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WECT) - It's a major budget shortage that school leaders said is affecting students and faculty.

Columbus County Schools doesn't have enough money to keep up with its spending.

According to the school's finance officer, Terry Dudney, if major changes are made, the school system could be almost half a million dollars over budget.

Dudney said there are many reasons for the shortcomings, mainly a decrease in local, state and federal money over the past decade.

Instructional staff's supplements salaries increased by five percent starting in the 2015-16 school year to be comparable to Whiteville City Schools. This is based on an annual salary in November of each year, Dudney said.

The school system has also had trouble keeping up payments for its exceptional children program. The state allots about 800 students for the program, and Columbus County has about 870. Even though the county has more than the cap, Dudney said the county doesn't get any more money, so it has to provide money for all of the services with its own money.

"We are very concerned about where that is going to go when it comes to the end of the year for exceptional children and what we can provide for next year. That has got to be a priority. We've got to provide the services to children with disabilities," Dudney said.

In his 12 years in this position, Dudney said this is the worst he has seen the budget look. The school system has tried to shuffle positions around to save money, not fill vacancies in some instances and reduce instructional supply budgets for classrooms.

Dudney said having vacant spots in positions pretty much except instructional jobs is affecting students and staff.

"We're really spreading people thin and then, of course, you hear that I'm not being able to put all of my time where it needs to be because I'm being spread so many different ways," he said.

Some counselors are working at as many as three different schools.

"It's all based on that. When they're spread that thin, what time frame a person can actually spend with a child? And granted, any deficiency you can put in a child is going to end up hurting the child. So I feel that, you know, the more we spread people thin the less money we have, the less positions we're able to fill is just going to end up causing a lot of pain later in the school system when it comes to staff and to students as well," he said.

According to the budget presentation Dudney gave to the board of education Monday, the school system started this school year with $59,727,382. It has spent 78.48 percent of that as of the end of March.

Dudney will present to the board again in May to forecast how much it has left for the last two months of the school year.

The school system is hoping to ask the county commissioners for money depending on that presentation.

If the school system can't come up with the money to dig itself out of a hole by the end of this school year, that half a million dollars in the red will carry over into next school year.

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