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Bertie School Board plans special meeting

WINDSOR – On May 20, Bertie County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart made a request of $1.54 million in additional current expense local funds for the upcoming 2006-07 fiscal year.

During his budget presentation to the county commissioners on June 5, County Manager Zee Lamb suggested a 10-percent hike ($2.057 million to $2.263 million) in current expense money for the school system.

That $1.24 million difference is expected to be the topic of discussion at 12 noon tomorrow (Friday) where the Bertie County Board of Education will convene in a special called meeting at the Central Office.

According to BCPS spokesperson Brent Todd, the meeting is open to the public.

It is not known if Dr. Collins-Hart will ask the school board to take any drastic steps in lieu of the projected funding shortfall.

At the May meeting with the county commissioners, she referenced hardships facing the Bertie school system, including a near one-half million dollar loss in state ADM funds due to declining enrollment as well as a $557,156 reduction in the system’s fund balance. She said the school system was looking at a total shortfall of $3.43 million.

However, a portion of that money can possibly be recouped through new grants (proposed at $878,631.33) plus $1.1 million in savings with the closings of Askewville and J.P. Law elementary schools. But, according to her figures, that still leaves BCPS with a $1.54 million shortfall in local funds.

In her proposal, Dr. Collins-Hart said $1.06 million was needed in salary increases for school system positions paid for by local funds. That came in regards to North Carolina Governor Mike Easley’s proposal of a 3-to-5 percent salary increase for state employees. That will be covered by state funds. However, she said when the state increases salaries, county government should follow suit and call for a raise of salaries funded locally.

Meanwhile, Lamb’s proposed budget includes a three-percent cost of living increase for county employees. Additionally, the commissioners, upon their approval of the budget, will raise the minimum county salary for all full-time, permanent employees to $20,000 annually.

Dr. Collins-Hart said another half-million dollars ($536,065) was needed in local funds for the Bertie High School “turn-around” plan. That plan was put in place after Judge Howard Manning ruled earlier this year that 44 low-performing high schools across the state were in jeopardy of not being able to open their doors for the start of the 2006-07 academic year due to what he referred to as “dismal academic performance.” Bertie High School was on that list and joined the other 43 targeted schools in devising a plan to increase composite test scores.

However, on Tuesday of this week, Gov. Easley announced $4.5 million in state funds to be shared among low-performing high schools to help implement programs designed to increase the test scores.

Dr. Collins-Hart also proposed an $845,871 hike in local funds to pay for the priority items tagged in the system’s first year of a five-year strategic plan. Listed among those priority items are the hiring of four curriculum specialists, five bus safety monitors and establishing bonuses for teachers plus developing a bus driver incentive program.

To enhance programming to increase student achievement, Dr. Collins-Hart said $132,000 was needed to cover the costs of SAT prep tests, science kits, college prep programs and funds for telecommunications, including the Internet and the proposed Bright Futures project.

The final portion of the proposed increase came in the form of $33,086 needed in start-up costs for the new Bertie Middle School.

On the other side of the coin, Lamb’s budget proposal totals $3.44 million to the Bertie school system. That includes $2.26 million in current expense funds, $65,000 from landfill host fees, $375,000 for general capital outlay, over $212,000 in QZAB loan payments (for renovations to the county’s six public schools) and nearly $593,000 in payments for the new $18.5 million Bertie County Middle School.

All totaled, Lamb proposed an $18.1 million budget for 2006-07 to the Bertie Board of Commissioners. The tax rate remains unchanged at 78 cents per $100 of property value.

A public hearing concerning Lamb’s proposed budget will be held at 7:20 p.m. on Monday, June 26 in the Commissioners Meeting Room. The commissioners may vote on the budget following that hearing.