Stanly Schools puts budget controversy to rest

FILE PHOTO: Stanly County Schools | Stanly County Schools

ALBEMARLE — Stanly County Schools superintendent Jeff James says the county school system has solved a budget controversy that had plagued the system since his hiring. In a press release, James said that a forecasted budget deficit of approximately $800,000 had resulted in “many sleepless nights” for the school board and administration.

The budget concerns arose in late January when school system officials discussed shortfalls in the county’s education budget. Some blamed the shortfall on a change in state policy related to Medicaid, but in an interview James said that claim was without merit. Instead, James said the budget hole — which amounts to about 1.5 percent of the budget — was a result of the school system not adjusting spending to align with slightly lower revenue from the state.

“I went through 10 years of audit reports,” said James.

Lower revenue from the state, he said, was caused by lower enrollment which has arisen from several factors including the county’s growth rate.

Dr. Jeff James (Photo: Montgomery County Schools)

“When I was first hired as superintendent, there was much concern regarding the fact that our budget would end the year in a deficit of approximately $800,000,” said James in a written statement. “It is with great pleasure that I announce tonight, March 26, 2018, that Stanly County Schools no longer faces this fiscal cliff.”

James said that the district had closed the budget hole without any additional funds from the county or Stanly County taxpayers. James credited a “fiscal urgency plan” that he presented to the school board on Feb. 7. The plan included a hiring and spending freeze for certain nonclassroom areas and a thorough review of the system budget.

“We also poured over every aspect of the budget, line by line, and identified areas where money could be better utilized,” said James.

James also put the notion of a budget amendment from the County Commissioners to rest.

“We will not need to ask County Commissioners for additional funds to balance the budget this year,” he said.

As the system and school board look to the future, James says he is focused on building a $1 million fund balance which can operate as a rainy-day fund in the future if one-time or unexpected financial issues come up.

James is also putting together a facilities task force that will look at the system’s resources comprehensively and will include county commissioners and other stakeholders. He said transportation efficiency is a top priority as the system’s bus routes are rated 87 percent efficient by the state. If the system improves its efficiency, more state funds will flow toward Stanly County.

James said he is looking forward to shifting away from budget and fiscal issues to curriculum and opening up new opportunities for students.

“My passion is out-of-the-box thinking and creating great opportunities for students,” he said.