Northampton boards clash over budget

Published 9:15 am Thursday, May 28, 2009

JACKSON — Tensions between county and school officials ran high once again as supplemental pay for school personnel took center stage in a special called meeting.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Northampton County Board of Commissioners along with members of the Board of Education met in a joint working group meeting to discuss the school board’s upcoming $3.7 million current expense budget.

Conflict between the two groups began as county officials questioned school representatives on $501,174.66 earmarked for supplemental pay presented in the school board’s proposed current expense budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

At the beginning of the meeting, Commission Chair Robert Carter called for civil dialogue between the two groups as they continued to discuss the schools’ local budget.

He noted the previous joint group meeting on May 12 where he questioned school officials about $380,000 in supplemental pay. Carter said the answer he received was that it was for science and math teachers.

A few days after that meeting, County Manager Wayne Jenkins received the schools budget. Carter said upon review, the Board of Commissioners directed Jenkins to study the budget as the commissioners had several points they needed explanation.

Jenkins said he began to review the schools’ budget, line item by line item.

“These are my findings; and there could be explanations, and I’m sure there are, but that is the purpose Mr. Carter called the meeting today,” said Jenkins.

Jenkins began with one a line item marked Program 850 which has $212,698.14 categorized for supplemental pay.

“We don’t know what for,” he said.

After directing school officials to the page number, Jenkins said under Program 850 there is $380,000.

“In that $380,000 there is $212,698.14 identified as supplemental pay,” said Jenkins. “The question is supplemental pay for who and what?”

Board of Education member Charles Tyner responded that Program 850 is supplementary pay for every teacher working in the school system.

“I do have a problem before we get into this, this is the same thing we’ve been doing for the last 20 years,” said Tyner. “This is the same budget, there is no increase in this.”

Tyner added that supplemental pay was needed to recruit good math and science teachers.

“Likewise, I’m telling you that every teacher that works in Northampton County Schools system, according to their number of years employed, is on a schedule as they have been, for the last…when you were there Mr. Carter,” said Tyner.

Carter reminded Tyner they wanted to keep the meeting civil.

He referred to the county’s upcoming budget in which the commissioners are considering furloughing county employees, have cut department budgets by three percent, cut salaries and cut out all travel in order to help meet a $2.1 million budget shortfall.

“So we come here and ask you for an explanation, you tell me when I ask a question that it is for the recruitment of science and math teachers, but when we looked at this budget, 13.3 percent of your budget is supplement,” said Carter. “All we’re asking for is an explanation, so keep your head on (and) give us an explanation.”

Jenkins pointed to another earmark under Program 850 in which $23,046.66 is categorized for supplemental pay for teachers.

Jenkins then when down the line noting all of the supplemental pay for school personnel, including school nurse ($5,446.23), director/supervisor ($10,142.50), transportation ($2600), finance officer ($6,484.74) and coaches ($115,233.60).

He then stated the supplemental pay for administration ($50,971.33), media specialist ($8,653.38) and guidance counselor ($10,107.51).

Also listed was $15,000 for superintendent supplemental pay and $40,709.50 for principals.

Jenkins said the total in supplemental pay comes to $501,174.66 plus fringes.

Jenkins said there is also $104,096.08 for travel and workshops listed in the budget, adding that both supplemental pay and travel and workshops amount to 16.1 percent of the schools’ current expense budget.

“To meet this (current expense) budget, which is proposed at $3,757,580, you have current expense appropriation from the county at $3,555,000,” said Jenkins. “At our last working group meeting we proposed current expense appropriation at $3,645,000, which is 90,000 more then you’ve got proposed here.”

Tyner reiterated that all teachers and administrators receive a supplement based on a schedule the school system uses (that is approved by the Board of Education) as well as other school systems use across the state.

Tyner said the supplement is used to pay 10 month employees that are now working 12 months.

He referred to band/athletic personnel for football who work for 12 months, but are paid 10 months for teaching.

“The additional money is for them to work with our students in our football program during the summer,” he said.

Tyner said guidance counselors from the high schools are working 12 months and other counselors are working 10 and 11 months according to the caseload.

“For supplement you want to say this is an addition to their salary, but for our (employees) it’s a 10 month employment,” he said. “We pay the other two months in this supplement, if they’re working 12 months.”

Tyner added that the only way to pay for the additional two months is through current expense.

“We’ve cut them (supplements) this year from what we did in the previous year because we won’t have as many, (due to) the closing of some schools,” said Tyner. “So not all supplement is not a bonus, supplement is additional work.”

Schools Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy asked if it was the concern that the supplemental pay was too high.

Carter responded by saying no, that the concern was the $380,000.

Carter continued by saying as Tyner talked about supplemental pay for teachers, he thought about the more than 250 county employees who work 365 days a year, 24/7.

“These employees are going to take a salary cut, based upon what we did with (our) budget,” he said.

Carter said when the two groups came together in the May 12 meeting county officials asked the school representatives to work with them in order to balance the county budget and avoid an increase that would take the tax rate from 78 cents to 91 cents.

“I know that coaches get supplements, I know that band people get supplements, but I wasn’t aware guidance counselors, finance officers, and what have you got it,” he said. “And I thought you would kind of shave it down a little bit to help us. …We want talking points for you to help us because we’re all in this mess.”

Carter said when the commissioners saw that the proposed supplement went from $380,000 to $605,000 “that raised a question.”

“We’re not angry, but when this budget is laid out and citizens come up to me and ask me, I want the intelligent to say to them what’s going on,” he said.

Tyner said he wondered what citizens would say to the local government’s budget going up to 43.9 percent and public schools get 28.8 percent, the Department of Social Services is 20 percent and the Health Department gets 9.3 percent.

Tyner continued by saying that in 2005 public schools had 35 percent, in 2006 they received 37 percent and in 2007, the schools were allocated 28 percent.

“And now were at 28.8 percent…that is the amount of money Northampton County gives the schools,” he said.

Tyner then referred to a “court ordered” 37.3 percent of county ad valorem taxes.

“I want to ask you the same question: how have you increased in local government spending compared to the Board of Education,” Tyner asked. “The facts and figures are there. Have you added on more (employees) or you’re doing more services for the county. …Maybe, we need to go to Judge Manning and let (him) decide if Northampton County Schools is getting what they need from the county.”

“Mr. Tyner,” Carter interrupted. “I resent that. We have come in here asking you to explain what your figures are, but your going off on the deep end.”

Carter asked about the schools average daily membership (ADM) funding.

“What has happened to that? You wouldn’t have closed those schools down if your population was up there,” he said. “So let’s not go there. Let’s not go there arguing about something that happened five years ago, let’s talk about the 09-10 budget. Now if you don’t have a good explanation of why you’ve done that, this meeting is over as far as I’m concerned.”

Carter continued, “You all just come in and attempt to circumvent everything we’ve attempted to do and the only thing we wanted was a working dialogue…that’s all. You have to admit you were not fair with us in revealing to us your budget.”

“What are you saying? We gave you the budget, it’s the same budget as last year…the same supplements,” Tyner fired back.

When Carter asked if any one would like to make a comment, Commissioner Virginia Spruill questioned Tyner about the supplements.

“My point is in your supplements to whomever you give them to, do you consider any kind of economic restraint that is occurring in the county, state and federal governments,” Spruill inquired.

“Yes,” said Tyner.

“And in what manner does that take place,” she said.

“We look at the budget and those persons that we think we do not need for 12 months…we’re going through the process of eliminating those folks, we’re closing schools, there will be three principals you will not need to worry about supplementing next year, four really,” Tyner responded. “We’re doing everything we can to cut our personnel without cutting test scores.”

Spruill said she assumed those eliminations were based on school closings.

“What about those (employees) remaining in the system,” she questioned. “What have you done in that area, that category, to help us complement the economic conditions that are existing for all of us.”

“No, we have not reduced teachers who come to Northampton County, their three percent supplement,” said Tyner. “How are we going to get teachers to come to Northampton County if we don’t have something to offer them; They don’t have a decent place to live in Northampton County…”

“I did not say eliminate all of the supplement, but have you considered, and did you consider, any of that supplement?” Spruill said.

School officials responded with a “no.”

“Mr. Carter, if we do that we’re going to reduce the quality of teachers coming to Northampton County,” said Bracy.

Jenkins said he suspected individual contracts between the school system and teachers there are contractual provisions that require a supplement to be paid.

“Is that correct?” asked Jenkins.

School officials said yes.

“That is an acceptable explanation the Chair was looking for,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins also corrected Tyner on the 37.3 percent, which Jenkins said was not court ordered.

“That 37.3 percent was hammered out and came out of the working group meeting,” he said. “Also, in regards to Mr. Tyner’s accusations that county government has increased 43 percent, in that 43 percent increase you’ve (the commissioners) added on eight new deputies to provide law enforcement not only to the county (government) but the county as a whole. Also added on was a new E911 Center so we can better respond not only to our citizens, but our school personnel as well. You also added on a second EMS crew to better respond to the EMS needs of this county.”

Board of Education Vice Chair Bill Little said he remembered the arbitration between the two entities and that they went through it twice.

“The arbitrating judge stated two things; one, we were to arrive at a mutually agreeing formula and that we would meet periodically,” he said.

Little said over time the formula has changed and “we have not mutually agreed to the change.”

“The arbitration that came out of the schools and county mediation did not set forth any kind of funding formula,” said Jenkins. “What it did dictate was for Northampton County to increase the capital outlay appropriation to the schools each of three years consecutively. There was no mention in the arbitration regarding current expense increases. We met with the intent of the arbitration, understanding to avoid this from happening, that there would be a mediated formula.”

Jenkins said the two groups did do that and that was based on a real value base in the county of $1.1 billion of that amount the schools appropriation for those three years did match 37.3 percent.

“When this county was reevaluated, that $1.1 billion increased to $1.7 billion,” he said. “And you calculate 37 percent of $1.7 billion versus $1.1 (billion). So when your superintendent took that off the table we gladly jumped on it.”

Carter said in the last meeting, county and school officials agreed to meet to work on the new formula.

“This is going to happen between now and December I hope because there will be a change of chairmanship” he said.