After beginning the school year with $5 million in State and Federal debt, Wayne County Public Schools and the Wayne County Board of Education say they will officially close out the 2020-2021 fiscal budget with that debt completely paid off. District administrators say it was truly a team effort – from the Board of Education down to the classroom teachers and staff – in order for the school district to be able to zero out this debt in just 12 months.
“Just as this debt was incurred over several years, it was originally expected to take years for our district to pay it off,” states Dr. David Lewis, WCPS Interim Superintendent. “The work of former interim Superintendent, Dr. James Merrill, School Operations Specialists, LLC president Aaron Beaulieu, district leadership, our auditors, and our school administrators and staff helped position Wayne County Public Schools to repay its debt while more importantly implementing and maintaining financial best practices expected of all public school districts in North Carolina.”
Earlier this month, the Wayne County Board of Education approved recommendations by Dr. Lewis and Chief Finance Officer Leslie Rouse to make the school district’s second and final payment to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. In 2019-2020, the school district overspent its State budget allotted by NCDPI by $2.2 million. On Tuesday, the Board approved a recommendation from Lewis and Rouse to repay $3 million to the USDA School Nutrition Program to cover funds borrowed in 2019 from the program’s local savings held by WCPS. All of the debt payments were the result of strategic budget cuts implemented by the district administration to align spending with revenue, coupled with the rebuilding of savings and the utilization of identified unencumbered funds from allowable accounts.
“Our school district, with the support of Board of Education members, has truly experienced a culture change in how departmental and school budgets are managed,” adds Lewis. “Moving forward, the goal for our district will be to maintain best practices and to work towards the long-term financial vitality and health of our schools and our district. Doing so will help ensure Wayne County students always have the best education opportunities afforded to them and that our school district never finds itself in the same position it was last summer.”