HCPS requests #036;1.42 million increase

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 20, 2004

WINTON – Facing uncertainties in financially tight times, Hertford County Schools Superintendent Dennis Deloatch approached the county’s Board of Commissioners here Monday night with an idea of increased funding.

Supported by a standing room only crowd, Deloatch passed along the wishes of the county’s Board of Education, a proposal that asked for a $1.34 million increase in its allocation from Hertford County for current expense funding. Additionally, Deloatch said the county’s schools were in need of an extra $89,255 for capital outlay.

The current expense request represents a 45.79 percent increase over last year’s budget.

&uot;We are here to speak for those that cannot speak for themselves – our children,&uot; said Deloatch.

The Superintendent then touted the recent successes within the county’s Public School system, noting gains within reading and math scores, ones that have been used as building blocks for the schools to climb the &uot;ABC’s of Education&uot; ladder.

But increased scores means a higher price tag for education. Meanwhile, state funding for education had been cut for three consecutive years – down by $300,000 in 2002-03 and $500,000 in the current budget year.

&uot;We’re looking at a projected $750,000 in state cutbacks for the upcoming fiscal year,&uot; noted Deloatch.

To counteract the losses in state funds, Deloatch said several positions within the school system have been eliminated.

&uot;Fortunately, we were able to eliminate positions as they became vacant,&uot; he stressed. &uot;We also used every means available to minimize the impact on the classrooms by not eliminating positions directly related to instruction.&uot;

Deloatch noted that with the impending state cutbacks, the school system would be forced to consider the elimination of several positions that are currently filled.

The Superintendent said the system has relied on a portion of its current expense fund balance to ensure that quality instruction would continue despite the economic difficulties currently facing the state and nation. From 2001-2003, the Hertford County Board of Education approved a total of $753,164 to be transferred from the fund balance to the current expense fund in order to help make ends meet. That leaves the system a current total of $1.78 million in its fund balance.

&uot;It is our projection that we will again use our fund balance prior to the close of this fiscal year,&uot; said Deloatch. &uot;We cannot afford to continue to deplete those funds.&uot;

Deloatch also pointed out the unfunded education programs mandated by the federal government. In addition, he addressed a crisis situation in attracting and retaining quality teachers in Hertford County without the benefits of offering them, &uot;the perks, bonuses and supplements used by larger school systems to attract the best teachers.&uot;

But despite all the drawbacks, Deloatch said he was extremely proud of how the students, staff and administrators within the system has responded in tough times.

&uot;Through all of this, we are still seeing our children achieve higher goals,&uot; he stressed. &uot;We are moving forward, but there is much work that remains to be done and we need dollars to make that happen.&uot;

Those dollars, he said, have to come from local government in the wake of all the state cutbacks and unfunded federal mandates. Deloatch pointed out that the county Commissioners have not increased the local education budget since 1996. If additional funds for the school system are not currently available, he urged the Commissioners to seriously consider a long-range plan that will gradually increase the local dollars allocated to the school system.

&uot;We need these funds,&uot; he urged. &uot;We cannot afford to continue to cut personnel and programs at the expense of educating our children.&uot;

Wendell Hall, Chairman of the Hertford County Board of Education, observed that the future of the local communities rest squarely upon the shoulders of properly educating the children.

&uot;We want to take a good school system and make it a great one,&uot; said Hall. &uot;We can’t afford to take a step backwards.&uot;

Hall continued, &uot;Please don’t tie our hands. There’s no tomorrow for us. We want to help Hertford County grow and that all starts with education. One of the reasons we hear that Hertford County can’t attract new industry is because of our school system.&uot;

In response to the request, Johnnie Ray Farmer, Chairman of the Commissioners, agreed that education holds the key to the county’s future. However, he pointed out that just to fund the School Board’s request would take a 13-cent tax increase.

&uot;That would put us right back where we were a few years ago, as the highest taxed county in the state,&uot; noted Farmer. &uot;Plus we have other areas of local government that will be asking for an increase of funds.&uot;

Commissioner Curtis Freeman embraced Deloatch’s idea for long-range planning.

&uot;We need a plan and we need to open dialogue between the Commissioners and the Board of Education in an effort to put a plan in place immediately,&uot; said Freeman.