The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

June 17, 2013

ECPS awaits county budget decision


PRINCEVILLE — In 10 days, the Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners could approve its 2013-2014 budget. Because of the proposed cuts to the Edgecombe County Public School (ECPS), there officials are likely waiting nervously for the results.

During the board's June 3 regularly scheduled meeting, officials of the ECPS made pleas during a public hearing by asking the board of commissioners to rethink the proposed budget cuts.

The meeting was recessed until June 27, when the board is expected to finalize the budget. The proposed budget cuts $500,000 from public schools.

Officials at ECPS are also preparing for its budget. Their proposal will likely not be completed until the county's finalized its budget.

If the county's proposal stands, the impact could be devastating for ECPS. Because of recent cuts from state and local level, along with losing students to the new county charter school, ECPS' budget has drastically decreased over the years.

"I just hope we don't have the impact of suffering some more cuts," said ECPS Superintendent John Farrelly. "One of the keys for growth is we have to have the funding to support all the students in the district."

ECPS Board of Education Chairman Ann Kent pointed out that last year alone, state and federal government cut $3.8 million from the district's budget.  

"More and more we've been asked to do with less," she said.

The decrease has led to cutting positions in just about every area. The most recent was less than a month ago when 30 positions including 10 teachers, 16 assistant teachers, four coaches and a central office staff member was cut. The cuts have added to the county's already ailing unemployment rate which has been ranked in the top state's top five for more than 10 years.

At the end of the 2012-2013 school year, ECPS had 1,000 employees and  6,600 students. Of that, 422 were graduating seniors. One question remains to be answered will there be enough new kindergartners and preschoolers to fill that gap?

The district is allocated at per pupil funding of more than $7,000 for each student that is enrolled. If the vacant slots are not filled, those funds will not be given to the district and it could place an even greater strain on the budget.

Driving ECPS' declining student population is North East Carolina Prep School, which recently completed its first school year. Since NECP was licensed by the state in early 2012, hundreds of students from ECPS have changed schools. As well as losing students, ECPS also loses the per pupil funding which moves with the migrating students.

And it doesn't appear that it will get any better for ECPS. NECP's plans are to add a grade nine this year. The cycle will continue yearly until enrollment reaches the 12th grade and an anticipated 2,200 students. NECP reported 403 students attended its school during its inaugural year and projects 860 student in year two.

County budget cuts could also impact public safety, as Conetoe Fire Chief Allen Dennie told the board that the proposed $87,000 cut could have an adverse affect on the citizens in that fire taxes may have to be imposed. Dennie said in the in past 12 months, the 12 county fire departments have been called to a combined 1,910 fire calls.

"Taking our appropriation in mind, that's $33.42 per call," he said. "That pretty cheap costs for the service that we provide, considering on many fire calls, you  may have six trucks and 20 to 30 firefighters. Every fire department operates on a lean budget. We don't have things that we want. We have things that we must have or are mandated to have."