Bertie Superintendent says funding is inadequate

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 17, 2006

WINDSOR – “Woefully inadequate.”

That summed up the feelings Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart has for the proposal offered by Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb in regards to current expense funds for the county school system in the 2006-07 budget.

Addressing the Bertie Board of Education here Friday during a special called meeting, Dr. Collins-Hart, the school system’s superintendent, said the proposed county budget fell far short of the system’s $1.77 million request for additional funds over the current year.

In a breakdown of the additional funds, Dr. Collins-Hart said $1,543,000 was needed in the current expense account and $225,000 in capital outlay funds. Her total budget request in local funds is $3.6 million (current expense) and $600,000 (capital outlay).

Lamb’s proposal reflected a 10 percent increase over the current year educational budget funds (to $2.26 million). His budget also proposes $375,000 in capital outlay.

Additionally, the county is responsible for 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.

“I fully understand we can’t ask for everything, but our request to the county was not a shopping list, rather our proposal was developed to meet the needs of our children,” Dr. Collins-Hart said.

She continued, “Please be reminded that the county’s 2006-07 budget has not yet been approved by the commissioners. But we need to be prepared. That’s why this meeting is called here today, to discuss our priorities in the face of an expected $1,562,000 in unfunded needs.”

In her presentation, Dr. Collins-Hart said that if Lamb’s proposed budget is adopted, Bertie Schools would spend roughly one-half of their $2.26 million on raises. Currently, North Carolina Governor Mike Easley and the General Assembly are attempting to come to terms on raises for all state employees (a hike that could come in at 3 percent, but could go as high as 8 percent).

Dr. Collins-Hart said the state pay hikes do not affect Bertie School employees whose salaries are paid by county funds. She said it was customary to offer those employees a salary increase at the same time a state worker was receiving a pay hike.

She said $1.03 million was needed to cover the local raises.

“If we did not spend another dime in current expense funds after giving the raises, that would leave us $1,234,000 to fund all of our other needs,” she noted. “I must point out that $1,234,000 is roughly the same amount our auditor said was necessary to maintain in our fund balance.”

If that’s the case, then Bertie Schools will have to completely drain their fund balance in order to implement the priorities set forth by the school board for 2006-07.

Those priorities include over $550,000 for a turn-around plan at Bertie High School, one of the 44 lowest-performing schools in the state and one targeted by Judge Howard Manning for closure if composite test scores by students do not drastically improve.

Dr. Collins-Hart said $845,871 was needed to implement year one of a five-year strategic plan. She did slice nearly $500,000 off that plan by eliminating the hiring of four curriculum specialists (an expected cost of $197,760) and deleting $300,000 in certified supplements.

She left intact the $132,000 needed for programming that will increase student achievement as well as the $34,000 expected to be needed as start-up costs for the new middle school currently under construction.

In the area of capital outlay, Dr. Collins-Hart has already begun tinkering with the $600,000 originally needed. She has deleted the new bleachers planned for the Bertie High School football field (a projected cost of $150,000) as well as $20,000 proposed for television equipment.

“Hopefully, the DSSF (Disadvantaged Student Supplemental Funds; Bertie’s projected share is $179,731) funds we receive from the state will help sustain some of these projects,” Dr. Collins-Hart said. “If not, I will make adjustments and offer them to you for approval.”

After calling the county’s proposed budget, “woefully inadequate,” Dr. Collins Hart did say that Bertie’s share of the state education lottery funds may help, but she could not include that money until it arrives.

In the meantime, she and the Bertie School Board members will wait until June 26 at which time the county commissioners will either approve Lamb’s proposed budget or ask for alterations.