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Asheville City Schools Financial Updates

November 1, 2021 

Good Evening Students, Staff and Families.  This is Ashley-Michelle Thublin, Executive Director of Communications, with tonight’s Board Brief.  

FEEDBACK FROM BUDGET QUESTIONNAIRE

During tonight’s Special Called Meeting, I presented the Board with a look at the Budget Questionnaire, which closed at 11:59 PM on October 31st.  In total, 382 stakeholders ensured their voices were heard, with the largest group representing current parents at 294.  Additional responders included 8 students, 19 community members that live with the Asheville City Schools district and 63 current or former Asheville City Schools staff members. 

A brief analysis can be found here

In short, common thoughts and feelings shared with the Board of Education include: 

  • The Central Office is overfunded considering its staff vs. the number of students within the district. 
  • The budget crisis is being seen and felt by everyone in the district. 
  • I suggest raising salaries for teachers and all staff. 
  • We cannot let a small population of parents and students dictate the financial direction of this school system. 
  • ACS should not close or merge any existing schools. 
  • Whatever decisions are made should be fully vetted and completely transparent. 
  • Please make a decision before December regarding the collapsing of school(s).  We need time to prepare for the 22-23 school year and cannot proceed without knowing what schools will remain open. 
  • I think the consolidation with BCS is inevitable. 
  • I believe a hiring freeze is the last thing that should happen considering many schools are short-staffed to begin with. 
  • How do we compare with other districts within our region and similarly sized districts across the state?  

Additionally, when asked “do you have questions about our current financial situation,” 269 stakeholders responded.  Common questions include: 

  • When are you going to reduce the Central Office? 
  • Why haven’t you addressed this sooner? 
  • How can this be resolved? 
  • Who is reviewing the budget and determining where cost-cutting measures are made? 
  • How do we get more funding, especially from the state? 
  • Why haven’t school repair needs been monitored regularly and addressed so we aren’t facing these huge repair bills? 

Although the budget questionnaire has closed, the Board continues to encourage students, staff and families to share their feedback by email and/or by participating in public comment either in-person or virtually during the November 8th Regular Meeting.  

PRESCHOOL

In response to Board Member requests, a presentation was also made about the Preschool Program. 

Susanna Smith, Director of the Preschool Program, gave a brief history of the program as well as examined its student demographic breakdown and staffing needs since the 2018-2019 school year.  

She also showed its revenue vs. expenditures from 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021 -22 school years, pointing out that Asheville City Schools has continued to allocate local funds to support the program.  She anticipates that, above and beyond revenues and grants, the district will spend approximately $1.1 million in local money for 2021-22. 



Smith’s presentation too looked at surrounding counties and how they fund their preschool program. 

ESSER FUNDS 

Sarah Cain, Elementary Education and Federal Programs Director, also gave an ESSERS Update

She explained that ESSER funds are about preventing, preparing, and responding to the COVID-19 emergency. Some reminders about ESSER Funds include: 

  • We are required to follow Uniform Guidance, specifically Federal and State regulations around spending ESSER Funds. 
  • The original application can be adjusted through an amendment process. 
  • Projected salaries, supplies, and services may not show as currently encumbered funds. 
  • Information and guidance from the Federal & State level changes.  
  • Sustainability is a critical part of our budgeting process. 

ESSER 1 (expires 9/30/22) 

  • As of October 31, 2021, Asheville City Schools has spent 83% of its ESSERS 1 fund totaling $855,948.78.  This means we have $145,185 that remains and must be spent by September 30, 2022.  Much of the remaining ESSER 1 funds have been allocated to salaries for staff members paid out of this funding code. 
  • Areas of ESSER 1 spending include: 
    • Replacement of Materials 
    • Operations and Sanitation 
    • Technology Replacement 
    • Mental Health Supports, Health Monitors, Safety Monitor
    • Professional Development around remote learning and learning loss

ESSER 2 (expires 9/30/23)

  • As of October 31, 2021, Asheville City Schools has spent 44% of its ESSERS 2 fund totaling $3,120,445  This means we have $1,762,735 that remains and must be spent by September 30, 2023. 
  • Areas of ESSER 2 spending include: 
    • Summer School Programs
    • Addressing learning loss through high-quality materials
    • Professional Development
    • Air Quality
    • Sanitation/Virus Transmission
    • Mental Health
    • Educational Technology

ESSER 3 (expires 9/30/24) 

    • As of October 31, 2021, Asheville City Schools has spent 2% of its ESSER 3 fund totaling $6,990,164.  This means we have $6,831,873 that remains and must be spent by September 30, 2024.  However, an important point of note is that most projected salaries fall under ESSER 3.  If you take into consideration all projected salaries paid from ESSER 3, it accounts for between 55 - 60% of the total amount granted to the district. 
    • Areas of ESSER 3 Spending include: 

 

  • At least 20% of ESSER 3 funding must be spent on Learning Loss

 

    • Continuity of Academic and Social Emotional Services
    • Educational Technology
    • Mental Health
    • Addressing the Unique Needs of Special Populations; ie students experiencing homelessness, student utilizing exceptional children services, students learning English as a second language 
    • Preparation and Coordination of COVID Response

Cain also shared that ESSER funds have very specific guidelines and can only be used in 14 allowable areas.  Based on the “Other ESSA Eligible Activities” area, she will be bringing Board Members additional information about potentially using ESSER 3 funds to provide bonuses to address staff recruitment and retention during the November 8th Regular Meeting.  Additionally, she reiterated that this funding is intended to not only support students now but next semester, next school year and through 2024. 

FINANCE AUDIT 

The Board of Education also heard from auditors at Anderson Smith & Wike PLLC.  They gave a broad overview of the district’s fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, explaining there were no significant findings.  At this time, the district has not received an electronic copy of the report shared; however, the auditor anticipates that this will occur this week.  Once it’s been received, the report in its entirety will be added to this section of the Board Brief as shared on the website. 

STAFFING & SUBSTITUE UPDATE

At the request of the Board, Dr. Dickerson gave a staffing and substitute update.  He explained that since July 1, 2021, Asheville City Schools has received 20 certified staff member resignations and 19 classified staff member resignations. 

He also shared more about the district’s new partnership with ESS, a K-12 education staffing and management solution, that specializes in placing qualified staff in daily and/or long-term substitute positions  At this time, there are a total of 44 substitute teachers within the district, nine of which have been hired within the last two weeks.  If you would like to support us in developing our substitute pool, please click here.   

ADDITIONAL ITEMS: 

The Board of Education presented a resolution in support of LGBTQIA+ students and their families stating “the Board affirms that every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.  Furthermore, the Board asserts that inflammatory and bigoted language is dehumanizing toward all of our faculty, staff, students and families.  And, as a Board, we respectfully ask our public officials to consider the harms created by divisive and vitriolic language and its impact on our students.”  They will vote on the resolution as part of their November 8th Regular Board Meeting. 

Kidada Wynn, Executive Director of Student Services, presented a Counseling/Support Services report, sharing the names of each staff member, their assigned school(s) as well as their roles and responsibilities.  

April Dockery, Executive Director of Crisis Management and Operations, also gave a presentation about Discipline Data. Her presentation examined our current major referrals from the first quarter of this school year compared to the major referrals from quarter one of the 2018-2019 school year, as that was the last year without COVID19.  Our current first quarter major referrals total 188, which is a 78% reduction and 646 less than this time in 2018.  During the 2018-2019 school year, there were 834 major referrals during the first quarter.  She said, as a group, we’re working on what’s best for each child and conversations are had about each major referral to see if it truly warrants a suspension or expulsion.  It was also determined that, as we’re moving toward eliminating exclusionary practices, there’s been some misconceptions.  At this time, Asheville City Schools does not have a “Zero Suspension Policy.”  The Board has not instituted any such policy.   To maintain a safe learning environment, staff are fully empowered to write referrals, and if a staff member has a question about this practice, they’re encouraged to speak with their school leader.  

And, as a reminder, the Board of Education will be hosting its next Regular Meeting on Monday, November 8th in the Board Room located at 85 Mountain Street.  The meeting can also be streamed on the district’s YouTube page.


October 25, 2021 

Good Evening Students, Staff and Families.  This is Ashley-Michelle Thublin, Executive Director of Communications, with a few updates. 

VACANCY UPDATES

During tonight’s Special Called Meeting, the Asheville City Board of Education heard from Dr. Mark Dickerson, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, about current job openings across the district.  

He explained that Asheville City Schools began the 2021-2022 school year with staff shortages for bus drivers, school nutrition employees, instructional assistants, custodians and some teaching positions. 

At this time, there are 60 vacancies across the district, not including bus drivers.  Bus drivers are not included because, although not ideal, our current staff is able to safely transport our students to and from school by driving double routes.  Ideally, each school needs a substitute driver for each bus to support if a staff member is out.  

As we look to fill these key roles, the district has created several recruitment videos that have been shared on social media, hosted three pop-up career fairs and attended two regional career fairs.  

We invite interested candidates to review our webpage for current job postings or visit us during an upcoming career fair.  Asheville City Schools will be recruiting during the November 4th Western Carolina University Career Fair as well as during its next Pop-Up Career Fair, which is scheduled for November 9th from 3:00 - 6:00 PM in the Board Room located at 85 Mountain Street. 

Dr. Dickerson also reiterated that Asheville City Schools is NOT in a hiring freeze.  

“We’re actively recruiting individuals looking to contribute to our community,” he said.  

He reshared that none of the budget reductions brought before the Board include letting go of current employees

CAPITAL NEEDS

In response to Board Member requests, a presentation was also made about each school’s current maintenance and facility needs. 

Kristy Coats, Facilities Liaison to the Superintendent, explained that, at this time, our nine campuses need an estimated $50,507,261.46 in capital projects.  A breakdown of each school’s estimated capital needs compared to current capacity based on staffing and actual student enrollment can be found below: 

Additionally, she shared each school’s in-progress maintenance projects as well as its critical and high-priority needs.  She explained that critical needs should be completed within one to two years, and high-priority needs should be completed within no more than five.  

  • Using revenue from both our Local Capital Fund and those from the School Capital Fund Commission, maintenance projects are currently being carried out at each of our nine campuses 
  • Besides Asheville Middle School, all campuses across Asheville City Schools include both critical and high priority maintenance needs.  Asheville Middle School’s high priority needs should be carried out within the next three to five years and total $1,215,000. 

For each school, Coats also included photos of current capital needs; the images included were taken this school year between August and October. 

She also gave a breakdown of each school’s utility cost.  She pulled data from the 2018-2019 school year because it was the last full year with all students and staff on campus. 

ADDITIONAL ITEMS

April Dockery, Executive Director of Crisis Management and Operations, also gave a presentation about updated COVID-19 protocols.  Sonita Warren-Dixon, Asheville High School’s Athletic Director, also explained that student-athletes and Cougar Fans will continue to follow the district’s mask mandates once Winter Sports begin on November 1st.  More information about these presentations will be included as part of the Thursday, October 28th Community Update.  Or, we invite you to watch tonight’s meeting here

During tonight’s Special Called Meeting, the Board of Education also selected its new Vice-Chair.  Martha Geitner was chosen for this important role.  

On behalf of Chairman James Carter and members of the Asheville City Board of Education, I also wanted to remind you that, if you have not already done so, all ACS students, staff and families are encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings on the budget by completing this form.  Creating one centralized location to collect feedback ensures all thoughts will be heard by all Board Members.  


All feedback collected through this form will be shared with the Board of Education during its November 1st Work Session.  The meeting will be held at 5:00 PM in the Board Room located at 85 Mountain Street and can also be streamed on the district’s YouTube page


October 22, 2021 

Good Afternoon Students, Staff and Families.  This is Ashley-Michelle Thublin, Executive Director of Communications.  On behalf of Chairman James Carter and members of the Asheville City Board of Education, I’d like to provide you with an update about our district’s complex financial situation.  

As the Board looks to determine its next steps about the budget, they want to hear from YOU.  Between now and Sunday, October 31st, all ACS students, staff and families are encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings by completing this form.  Creating one centralized location to collect feedback ensures all thoughts will be heard by all Board Members.  

All feedback collected through this form will be shared with the Board of Education during its November 1st Meeting. And, following the meeting, it will be shared with staff and families as part of the November 1st Board Brief.  

The Board has determined they will NOT be making any final decisions regarding budget recommendations from district leadership and/or HIL Consultants until they receive feedback from our students, staff and families on November 1st and our community has the chance to make public comments during the November 8th Regular Meeting. 

The Board of Education would also like to remind you that they’ll be hosting their next Special Called Work Session on October 25th at 5:15 PM in the Board Room located at 85 Mountain Street. The meeting can also be streamed on the district’s YouTube page.


October 19, 2021 

As part of the October 19th Special Called Work Session Board Brief, two pieces of information were shared pertaining to the current complex budget issues we're facing. 

BUDGET:

Georgia Harvey, Chief Finance Officer, also gave a presentation about the district’s budget process. 

She explained that Asheville City Schools’ funding sources include:   

  • Revenue directly from the federal government 
  • Federal revenues that are passed through the State 
  • Per pupil revenue provided by the State 
  • Asheville City Schools’ Local Option Sales Tax, which can be used for both local current expenses or capital improvements 
  • The School Capital Fund Commission’s Article 39 Sales Tax, which can only be used for capital improvements based on approval by the Commission
  • The School Capital Fund Article 40/42 Sales Tax, which can only be used for capital improvements and/or fixed assets
  • Additional tax allotments based on our county’s population size 
  • Lottery proceeds, which can only be used on capital improvements with approval from the County Commission and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction 

And, since Spring 2021, the district has saved over $500,000 in unreplaced Central Office Administrative positions, approximately $200,000 in operational service contracts and, to date, approximately  $250,000 as departments have reviewed their budgets, eliminating unnecessary expenses.  

Harvey also laid out a typical Board Review of budget reductions, which could include: 

  • Baseline budgeting from the prior year’s actual expenditures
  • Identifying non-essential programs/services that can be eliminated or reduced without reducing staff
  • A “hiring freeze,” which is a process to closely examine all new positions and vacancies and only fill essential positions that directly impact student instruction 
  • Separating recurring expenses from one-time or temporarily funded positions based on their source 
  • Analyzing facilities and their potential student capacity, with the possibility of the consolidation of facilities 

However, she explained that it will ultimately be up to the Board to determine next steps based on their established district priorities. 

The Asheville City Schools Budget Resolution was also unanimously approved by the Board of Education during tonight's meeting. 

ENROLLMENT:

In response to Board Member requests, a presentation was also made regarding each school’s historical & current enrollment, the current student capacity at each school based on staffing and the current percentage of white students & students of color at each school. 

  • As of Tuesday, October 19th, Asheville City Schools has 4,143 students enrolled in Kindergarten - 12th Grade.  
  • The district’s potential student capacity across all schools is 4,652.  This means we currently have 509 available spots. 
    • This number has been determined based on the amount of staff we could potentially have in each building as well as by adjusting our local caps.
      • Currently, the General Assembly has created a maximum number of students that should be in each classroom for Kindergarten - 3rd Grade, and Asheville City Schools has set a local cap for 4th - 12th Grade.  To support an increase in student capacity, the local classroom cap for core instruction could be raised to 25 students in Grades 4 - 8. 
    • At this time, Asheville City Schools is currently accepting out-of-district applications for students in 1st - 8th Grade.  We are not accepting applications for out-of-district students in Grades 9 - 12 due to staff availability.  For more information about our enrollment process, click here
  • A racial breakdown of our current student population can be found below: 

The Board of Education will be hosting its next Special Called Work Session on October 25th at 5:15 PM in the Board Room located at 85 Mountain Street.  The meeting can also be streamed on the district’s YouTube page.


October 8, 2021 

Good Morning Students, Staff and Families.  This is James Carter, Chair of the Asheville City Board of Education, and Superintendent Dr. Gene Freeman, with an update about our district. 

As a follow-up to Monday’s communication that addressed HIL Consultant’s Financial Analysis, we would like to provide additional information about the complex budget issues we’re facing. 

1) Has the Board taken action on any of the recommendations from HIL Consultants?  

  • Monday’s Work Session was the first time Board Members heard HIL Consultants’ recommendations.  At this time, no action has been taken.
  • Staff and the Board of Education will be reviewing this information and accepting public input before any decisions are made.  
  • The district is also waiting on a final State budget from the General Assembly. 
  • Again, at this time, Asheville City Schools has not begun a hiring freeze or begun the consolidation of schools and programs.  
  • However, the district is reviewing all outside service contracts and all departments have begun reviewing their respective budgets to eliminate all non-essential expenditures.  This began in Summer 2021 and is a practice the district is continuing. 

2) Based on the recommendations, will staff members lose their jobs? 

  • If the Board of Education chooses to accept the recommendation of implementing a hiring freeze, all current staff members will keep their positions.  Their recommendation is to not rehire positions as employees leave the district or retire unless absolutely essential.  According to Dr. Mark Dickerson, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, essential positions are those that directly impact student instruction.  

3) Why can’t Asheville City Schools just ask Buncombe County Government for additional funding? 

  • Per General Statute 115C-430, the County is required to fund both Asheville City Schools and Buncombe County Schools in proportion to their number of students that attend school on a daily basis, sometimes referred to as Average Daily Membership.  Based on our enrollment numbers, Asheville City Schools typically receives about 15% of Buncombe County Schools’ ask.  If Buncombe County Government gave Asheville City Schools additional funding they would proportionally have to also give Buncombe County Schools funding based on their ADM percentage.  

4) How much lottery funding does Asheville City Schools currently have access to? 

  • Lottery proceeds for public schools in Buncombe County are split by State law between Asheville City Schools and Buncombe County Schools.  Currently, Asheville City Schools’ available lottery funding totals approximately $1.2 million for capital use only.  Only the State can designate lottery funds for non-capital uses. 
  • In short, lottery funds are NOT a source of discretionary funds.  Neither Asheville City Schools nor Buncombe County Government can budget lottery funds to cover specific operational costs.  At this time (and in alignment with North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Annual Report) Asheville City Schools’ lottery funding can only be used for the following types of projects:
    • Purchase of land for public school buildings
    • Planning/Design fees for public school buildings
    • Construction of public school buildings
    • Renovation of public school buildings
    • Enlargement of / additions to public school buildings
    • Repair of public school buildings (beyond general maintenance)
    • School technology [from corporate tax fund (ADM Fund) allocations only].
  • And, before Asheville City Schools is able to use their allotted lottery funding on capital improvements, the district must submit an application and receive approval from the County Commissioners. 

5) Is Asheville City Schools currently accepting out-of-district students? 

  • At this time, Asheville City Schools is unable to accommodate requests for out-of-district students in Kindergarten and 1st Grade due to State class size restrictions and available staff. 
  • We are also unable to accommodate out-of-district 9th - 12th Graders due to staff availability. 
  • However, we are accepting out-of-district applications for students in Grades 2 - 8.  If you would like to learn more about the enrollment process, please click here.  

6) Why does Asheville City Schools charge a tuition fee for out-of-district students? 

  • Each family that lives within the district pays an additional supplemental tax which goes to Asheville City Schools.  The district’s tuition rate was put in place to help offset the revenue lost by not receiving the supplemental tax proceeds.  The tuition rate does NOT match the tax rate and is in fact lower.  In short, out-of-district students bring fewer dollars to the district than in-district students. 
  • Asheville City Schools’ tuition rate is $300 each year for Buncombe County residents, with an additional fee of $100 per sibling, and $1,200 each year for residents that live outside of Buncombe County, with an additional fee of $100 per sibling.

7) Does Asheville City Schools know where families are going that leave the district? 

  • Yes.  As shared by Deputy Superintendent Melissa Hedt during the October 4th Work Session, over the past three months, 466 students have withdrawn from the district.  The three most common reasons include transferring to Buncombe County Schools, transferring to a North Carolina private school and transferring to a North Carolina charter school.  We invite you to read the full report here
  • Currently, 634 students that live in the Buncombe County School district attend Asheville City Schools. 

8) Can Asheville City Schools add properties to the school district? 

  • In order to add a property to the Asheville City Schools district, Buncombe County Schools must agree to the transfer.  If a property is transferred, Buncombe County Schools would lose all State and local funding associated with students living at that property moving forward because the money would move with the child. 

9) Has the Central Office done anything to cut its expenses? 

  • As part of the 2021-2022 budget, all departments have begun reviewing their respective budgets to eliminate all non-essential expenditures. 
  • Through attrition, the Central Office staffing budget has been cut by more than $500,000 over the past year.  And, two Central Office employees have plans to retire within the next two months; neither position will be refilled, with their roles and responsibilities shifting to current Central Office employees. 

To learn more, we invite you to attend the Board’s next Regular Meeting on Monday, October 11th at 5:00 PM in the Board Room located at 85 Mountain Street.  We will also be holding Special Called Budget Workshops on October 19th and 25th at 5:15 PM in the Board Room located at 85 Mountain Street.  All meetings can also be streamed on the district’s YouTube page.


October 4, 2021 

Good Evening Students, Staff and Families.  This is Ashley-Michelle Thublin, Executive Director of Communications, with an important update. 

“As a follow-up to our May Budget Presentation, I asked Mrs. Harvey to contact HIL Consultants to complete a financial analysis of the district,” said Asheville City Board of Education Chair James Carter. 

In response to this request, HIL Consultants presented on the district’s current budget and the projected Fund Balance, which is the amount we have in reserve in case of an emergency, for both the 2021-2022 school year and moving forward during tonight’s Work Session

In their findings, HIL Consultants shared the underlying issues with our declining revenues, specifically noting: 

  • Anticipated State increases for both staff salaries and benefits, 
  • The rise in local charter schools and 
  • A decreased number of students that attend our school on a daily basis, sometimes referred to as Average Daily Membership, since the 2018-2019 school year. 

HIL Consultants believe Asheville City Schools is heading in an unsustainable direction if measures are not taken.  They’ve come to this conclusion based on projected decreases in the money we received both locally and from the State.  Knowing this will have a significant impact on our budget moving forward, they made four recommendations: 

  • The Board of Education should begin an immediate hiring freeze.  As attrition occurs, the district should not rehire unless the position is essential. 
  • The district should consider the consolidation of schools and programs when it’s feasible to do so.  Buildings and the number of support staff it takes to successfully maintain a campus are expensive, especially when the district is continuing to lose students. 
  • Review all outside service contracts, including maintenance and facility contracts that are not safety-related or essential.  
  • All departments should review their respective budgets and eliminate all non-essential expenditures.  

We invite you to read their full report here. 

Tonight was the first time Board Members heard HIL Consultants’ recommendations. 

According to Superintendent Dr. Gene Freeman, “District leadership will continue to present recommendations to the Board.  It will ultimately be up to them to make these hard decisions.” 


In addition to this report from HIL Consultants, independent auditors plan to give their final report to the Board of Education in November.