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BCPS needs accountability#8217; By Cal Bryant 01/25/2006 WINDSOR #110; The local funds earmarked for education in Bertie County are considerably lower than those coming from the more affluent areas of

WINDSOR n The local funds earmarked for education in Bertie County are considerably lower than those coming from the more affluent areas of the state.

But while the $639.61 that Bertie County contributes to each of the county’s 3,216 students enrolled in the public education pales in comparison to the average $2,156 that the 10 richest counties in the state spend for their students, Bertie officials say it’s not about the size of the pot of money, but rather how it’s spent.

The recent news of the low fund balance ($25,178) reported in an audit of the Bertie County Public Schools (BCPS) financial records has sparked a response from Bertie County government.

“It’s a simple matter of properly spending the money you are budgeted,” Zee Lamb, Bertie County Manager, said. “They (Bertie Board of Education) are placing the blame on state cutbacks, but school systems across the state are suffering the same fate.”

Lamb said the Bertie Board of Commissioners are using every means available to provide additional funds for public schools, but there’s only so much money to go around in a county where the tax rate is high and the tax base is low.

“We have to ask our citizens to shoulder a tax burden that is nearly 85 percent higher than the 10 wealthiest counties in the state,” Lamb noted. “In return, because of our low tax base, that money just doesn’t go very far. We still wind up with less money to spend on education, social services, public works, etc.”

However, according to Lamb, Bertie’s Commissioners, in December, added $107,000 to the BCPS current expense fund plus $225,000 earmarked for the capital reserve fund.

The county manager said the key in making such mid-year contributions boils down to accountability.

“The Bertie County Board of Commissioners will not allow money to be wasted or squandered,” Lamb stressed. “All the commissioners are asking is for the Bertie Board of Education to do the same n be accountable for the funds they receive as well as making sure that the majority of those funds are used in the classroom.”

According to Lamb, BCPS is saying they’re not getting the funds needed to efficiently operate the system.

“They have yet to prove they are good financial stewards of the money they do receive,” Lamb noted. “If they say they are good financial stewards, then why are there 39 positions at the (BCPS) central office compared to an average of 29 in surrounding counties.”

Lamb pointed to what he called as “high overhead” at the BCPS central office coming in the form of meals, excessive travel and creating more jobs than are needed.

Lamb also said that BCPS officials, during the recent coverage by the news media, had failed to reveal other pots of money received for education. He said BCPS receives, from the state, additional funds for being a small school district as well as a low wealth district. Plus, Lamb said, a portion of the fees generated at the regional landfill in Bertie County are earmarked for education.

“They are only showing a portion of the picture,” Lamb concluded. “To better understand what’s going on, you need to see the entire picture.”

Bertie County’s current expense appropriation to BCPS has shown an annual increase since the 1999-2000 fiscal year. At that time, Bertie County contributed $1.71 million (or $469.90 per student based on a total enrollment of 3,636). By adding in the December funds, Bertie government gave BCPS $2,057,000 for the current fiscal year (an average of $639.61 per student based an averaged enrollment of 3,216).