MONROE — Union County Public Schools’ (UCPS) budget has remained unchanged since 2018. At the Board of County Commissioners meeting on Monday (June 7), Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan and Chairwoman of the Board of Education Melissa Merrell requested a budget increase for Fiscal Year 2021-2022.

The commissioners did not vote on the request.

Per Merrell’s presentation, UCPS’ base budget is $106,046,045. Merrell said that after speaking with each UCPS department, more than $2 million in the existing budget was “redirected.”

Regardless of what the commissioners will approve of or want to amend within the budget, the school district needs a certain amount for state mandates for facility operations and insurance as well as a projected revenue loss for school nutrition and state-legislated salary increases.

Merrell said during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, schools offered students free lunches, which meant they couldn’t charge and pay themselves with the profit.

Nutrition plus facility operations and insurance costs amounted to $1,038,641.

Then, should the NC General Assembly and Governor Roy Cooper agree on a state budget, the school district would need another $2,700,100 for salaries and benefit increases — a projected 3% increase in salary for non-certified staff, a 5% increase for certified staff and a projected average of 8% for benefits increases.

Tack on a district compensation study focused on compensation market adjustments for transportation and support staff, supplement increases and increasing bus driver salaries by $1.00 per hour, and the school district has a total of $7,948,530 of required funding to be able to meet state mandates.

The last time UCPS classroom teachers, bus drivers and safety assistants saw an increase in their pay was 2017 in context of local supplement stipends. Stipends for teachers was ranked 12th in the state in 2018; however, in 2021 it was ranked 19th. If the other 115 school districts in North Carolina do not change, but UCPS adds a $1,000 stipend, it could put them in the top 10 school districts, Merrell explained.

School nurses and social workers have not had an increase in local supplements since 2012. The supplements would need to increase between $2,500 and $3,000 to be at market value.

When speaking about bus drivers, Merrell said UCPS is is short more than 50 drivers.

Initially, the school district projected the amount of money required would increase by $3.39 million; however, it increased to $4.7 million.

The proposed capital budget for FY 2021-2022 is $19,569,563. Most of the budget (over $16.3 million) would go to facilities for updates to school buildings (the district has 233 structures to maintain across the county), safety and security at schools and more. Technology services would take up more than $3 million for laptop lease payments (for teachers, administration and students in third through 12th grade), new vehicles would cost $120,000 and $50,000 is budgeted for band uniforms and equipment at Weddington High School, per Merrell’s presentation.

Continuing with the presentation, she provided the commissioners with information on per pupil expenditure.

UCPS ranks 29th in the state for local money spent on each student, which equates to $2,267 compared to the number one county, Chapel Hill-Carrboro, which receives $6,417 of local money. UCPS has just under 40,000 students and 53 schools whereas Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district has 20 schools and 12,522 students. Total per pupil spending in Union County is $8,781, while Chapel Hill-Carrboro spends $12,883.

Commissioner David Williams asked Merrell about the state government expenditure per pupil — how much money UCPS receives from state funding. The county is “dead last” in receiving state funds, Merrell said.