CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board welcomed new and returning members on Thursday, but school officials are already eyeing tough budget challenges ahead.

Newly-elected school board member Andrew Davidson and returning members Michelle Brownstein and James Barrett took just a brief moment to celebrate after taking their oaths of office before the school board sat down to digest some sobering statistics.

Andrew Davidson takes the oath of office.

Andrew Davidson takes the oath of office.

Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told the board the district faces a $3.3 million dollar shortfall next year.

“We’re using fund balance this year to balance our local budget,” said LoFrese. “We have used all of our available fund balance and we’ll need to either receive more funds to offset that or we’re going to need to look at reductions.”

This is the third year in a row the district has used reserve funds to balance the budget, but that money will not be available next year. LoFrese stressed that this shortfall comes after years of cumulative budget reductions.

“We think it is important to remind folks that this is not a single-year event. We have been living in tough times for several years,” said LoFrese. “We’ve made $8 million dollars worth of reductions over the last several years.”

Administrators struggled last budget season to make up for cuts to state funding that would have paid for 37 teachers and 25 teaching assistants. In total, state funding to the district was cut by $4.5 million dollars.

In the past five years, the General Assembly only approved a single 1.2 percent pay raise for educators. As a result, North Carolina now ranks 46 in the nation for teacher salaries.

CHCCS Human Resources Executive Director Arasi Adkins told the board this is affecting the district’s ability to recruit and retain quality teachers.

“The point is we’re going to continue to lose teachers to other states and other fields if North Carolina doesn’t do something to raise teacher pay across the board,” said Adkins.

The turnover rate for teachers in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district is now up to 14.47 percent, the highest it’s been in nine years. While more educators are looking to leave the system, student enrollment continues to grow.

“At the elementary level this year, we have 265 seats remaining with respect to SAPFO, 88 at the middle school level and 100 remaining seats at the high school level,” LoFrese told the board.

School officials anticipate opening new middle school in five year’s time, but some hope large-scale renovations to older facilities can increase capacity and delay the need for a new school.

The school board will revisit these issues next spring as part of the budget negotiation process.  You can read the district’s 2013 Opening of School Report here.