Statutes may play role in school funding

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 19, 2005

WINDSOR – The point-counterpoint maneuvering between Bertie County’s two elected boards continued here Monday night.

With the county still buzzing over the April 18 official release of the findings of a $50,000 audit ordered by the Bertie Commissioners of the county’s Public School System, the Commissioners are now engaged in discussion over the wording of a North Carolina State Statute dealing with the county’s share of local education funds.

Last month, the Bertie Board of Education approved an interim budget resolution for the 2005-06 school year. Included in that budget was $2.1 million in county appropriations.

The County Commissioners said they have no problem with allocating the money needed to operate the local public school system, but would like to, in accordance with State Statute 115C-429, have full authority to call for, and the board of education shall have the duty to make available to the board of county commissioners, upon request, all books, records, audit reports and other information bearing on the financial operation of the local school administrative unit.

Additionally, Lloyd Smith, attorney to the Board of Commissioners, passed along another portion of that same State Statute, one which read, &uot;The commissioners shall determine the amount of county revenues to be appropriated in the county budget ordinance to the local school administrative unit for the budget year. The board of county commissioners may, in its discretion, allocate part or all of its appropriation by purpose, function, or project as defined in the uniform budget format.&uot;

Currently, the Commissioners allocate the local funds in a lump sum amount. Smith’s findings revealed that the Commissioners, at their discretion, have the right to allocate portions or all of the funds in the direction of their choosing.

Smith referred to that right as a &uot;line item budget,&uot; meaning the Board of Education would have to appear before the Commissioners to ask for a change if they opt to divert money from one line item to another.

&uot;The key in this is does Bertie Public Schools follow the state’s uniform budget format,&uot; Smith noted. &uot;We need a copy of that format for our reference.&uot;

Citing a need to be trustworthy guardians of public tax money, Commission Chairman Rick Harrell said the number one priority in this matter are the children enrolled in the county’s school system.

&uot;We do not want to act in the capacity of the Bertie County School Board, that’s not what we were elected to do,&uot; Harrell said. &uot;Our intent here is to make sure the tax dollars of the citizens of this county are properly used for the students in the classroom.&uot;

Harrell closed with a mention of public trust.

&uot;It’s all about trust,&uot; he said. &uot;You have to have a level of trust, but right now that trust is staggering in our county.&uot;