LINCOLNTON – Lincoln County Schools (LCS) laid out its budget requests for the upcoming fiscal year during a joint meeting with the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners March 16.
While not a component of the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, the most significant request to come out of the discussion was the desire for a new school building to be included in the county’s five-year capital needs plan.
An adequate public facilities report delivered by Lincoln County Development Services Director Andrew Bryant projects both Catawba Springs and St. James elementary schools to exceed current capacities by the time the new school year starts in August.
“The plan we’ve talked about includes building a new middle school on the east end of the county and renovating the existing East Middle,” LCS Superintendent Aaron Allen said. “The renovated facility could possibly become an additional elementary school, which would potentially take some of the stress off of Catawba Springs, St. James, Iron Station and Rock Springs with a different feeder pattern.”
“We’ve also discussed the renovated facility being used as sort of a pre-K hub for the eastern end of the county,” he added. “That would solve some problems on the eastern end where there doesn’t appear to be a lot of options privately or publicly to fill those needs.”
Allen referenced property already owned by LCS on Old Plank Road, with the potential to purchase additional surrounding acreage, as a possible location for the new middle school. A new school, identified as a need in 2026, comes with an estimated cost of $65 million, while the renovation of East Middle is projected at $7 million.
Current expense and capital
LCS receives a base allotment annually from the county in the amount of approximately $23.1 million for its current expense fund. The school system has requested an additional $6.7 million, with roughly $1.2 million needed to complete a salary adjustment for classified positions yet to be addressed – including drivers education coordinators, teacher assistants, custodians and receptionists, among other positions – and nearly $3.2 million to cover additional personnel costs.
“That’s a big number next to personnel costs, but something we’ve realized in the past year regarding mental health is our counselors are well-trained individuals but there’s simply not enough of them,” Allen said. “The recommended counselor-to-student ratio is roughly one per 275 kids, but we have schools like Rock Springs and St. James in excess of 600 students with one counselor.”
Other areas to be addressed as part of the personnel cost figure would include additional arts programs countywide and adding positions to satisfy new graduation requirements levied at the state level related to personal finance and history education.
LCS is also requesting an additional $2.5 million on top of the $1.7 million county allotment for capital needs. The one-time payment would prevent LCS from having to further delay needed improvements, making sure existing issues don’t compound and become more costly, according to Allen.
The commissioners have one more budget work session scheduled, with a proposed spending plan set to be presented in May. The board will have the final say on whether to award the additional funding requested.
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