Northampton requests status quo

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 20, 2004

JACKSON – In a meeting here Monday afternoon, the Northampton County Board of Commissioners were presented with a budget request from Northampton County Public School Superintendent James Pickens for the upcoming fiscal year 2004-2005.

Pickens presented his request for county financial commitment, without an increase from the previous year, stating that the Northampton County School Board was able to balance the school’s budget from its undesignated fund balance.

Although members from the School Board discussed the possibility of securing an additional commitment when the group met for budget guidance with Northampton County Manager Wayne Jenkins and Commissioners last February, the county’s budget was not in a position to support the increase.

Pickens explained that, much like an individual would dip into their savings account to pay their recurring bills, the School Board had to dip into its undesignated fund balance in order to meet its budget for next year.

&uot;Right now, we are fortunate to have those funds available, but in the future that money is not going to be there,&uot; said Pickens.

According to Jenkins, the School Board has allotted just over $1 million from its undesignated fund balance to cover school budget expenses for the 04′-05′ year.

The School Board requested the county maintain its current financial commitment of $3,180,500 for the school’s Current Expense Fund and $445,000 for Capital Outlay Budget.

Pickens commented that although they were &uot;definitely headed down a road of collision,&uot; they simply &uot;had no more money.&uot;

He added, &uot;The programs still exist even despite the cuts we’ve sustained as a result of downsizing in education funding resulting from the Department of Public Instruction and the North Carolina General Assembly, but we are doing our best to use all the resources to maintain them to the benefit of our children.&uot;

Pickens also stated that the Board would &uot;definitely agree&uot; to meeting in work groups in an effort to seek a solution to the problem.

During the meeting, Commissioner James Boone incited a discussion about whether consideration would be given to a state lottery. &uot;We want our kids to have a quality education and the citizens of this county are expecting that,&uot; he said.

The controversial discussion aroused debate of whether the money generated by the potential sale of lottery tickets would be enough to reasonably or favorably affect the school’s funding, but Commissioner Jennings White, who raised the question, contended that the county &uot;may have to do it to meet the needs of the kids.&uot;

Pickens voiced his concerns about how the lack of funding might lead to the schools being taken over by the state and expressed distain at the idea.

White offered that should that occur, the state would then be obligated to meet its own stringent standards and therefore serve the education needs of the area’s young people. Pickens agreed that the state would indeed be obligated to do such, but perhaps with a whole new host of issues and pledged to do all in his power to help students obtain a quality education.

In order for the lottery to take root in the state, 25 out of 100 counties would have to vote in favor of the item in a referendum.

After the Commissioners voted to receive the school’s budget proposal, Jenkins publicly complimented Pickens and his staff for working diligently within the scope of his ability and stated, &uot;The proposal for the fund balance is exactly what we’ve asked him to do.&uot; Jenkins added that it was a pleasure to work with both Pickens and his staff and agreed to be proactive in communicating ideas that would support and promote the educational and developmental welfare of Northampton County students.