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CHCCS Board discusses next school year's budget amid coronavirus economic concerns

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education member Joal Brown speaks at a joint school boards meeting between Orange County Public Schools, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and the Board of County Commissioners. The meeting took place on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020 at the Whitted Building in Hillsborough, N.C.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board of Education met Thursday night to discuss the superintendent’s recommended budget in the wake of COVID-19. 

Patrick Abele, assistant superintendent for CHCCS, prefaced the meeting by acknowledging the current health crisis will cause some difficult financial decisions to be made regarding the 2020-2021 school year.

The budget comprises of seven initiatives, which include adding 13 additional K-3 classroom teachers and teacher assistants due to class size reductions, paid parental leave, paid inclement weather days and vision and life insurance for employees. 

The total cost of these items is $3,623,000. 

Some board members said they were worried about the larger impacts adding more teachers would have on the school system.

“Just the idea of when you add on a teacher, it’s not just a teacher,” board member Ashton Powell said. “It’s everything else that goes with it, not just their salary and benefits.”

Board member Rani Dasi said one of the biggest questions not addressed in the budget is whether students will start the upcoming school year virtually or in-person because either scenario will require different types of resources.

CHCCS Interim Finance Officer Jonathan Scott presented the projected revenues for the 2020-2021 school year and noted that, due to current economic conditions, the numbers could decrease.

CHCCS currently estimates their fiscal year end unassigned fund balance at $8.75 million, above the county’s target of 5.5 percent, or $4.5 million.

“The irony’s not lost on me that we’re sitting on the precipice of a very similar situation (to the 2008 Great Recession), and we’re very fortunate to be where we are with our fund balance,” Scott said.

The budget recommends to appropriate the historical $1 million assigned by the district to balance the budget, with an additional $910,000 to offset the expansion cost for Project Advance, Scott said.

The total local operating budget increase equals $7,339,000, with $3,716,000 going to sustaining operations and the other $3,623,000 going toward pushing for growth with expansion funds.

Scott said the proposed budget would increase costs by $391 per pupil.

“I think we’re all pretty aware that our situation is looking grim all around financially,” vice chairperson Amy Fowler said. “And I do think that the end result is that will we be having to look within our own budget to address some of these issues.”

Board member Joal Broun said she would be comfortable with an almost flat budget.

“I don’t think we’re going to get any more money than what we got last year,” Broun said. “Because one, I don’t think there’s any more money to be had. And two, the county is not going to, I don’t believe, increase taxes.”

The Board of Orange County Commissioners will have a budget work session on Tuesday, April 14.

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