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Bertie ranks high in funding schools

WINDSOR – A survey by Burke County showed funding for the Bertie County Schools may have increased more than most during the most recent budget year.

The district received a five percent increase from the Bertie County Commissioners, which is above all 27 counties that responded to the request from Burke County.

For Fiscal Year 2009-10, the Bertie County Commissioners approved a five percent increase in funding for Bertie County Schools. That followed three consecutive years of 10 percent increases which gave a cumulative four-year total of a 40 percent total increase.

In the wake of the increases, the Bertie County Schools recently completed its most successful year as far as state testing scores. The district had more than 75 percent of its schools reach Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and then found out Wednesday that it has been released from the school improvement classification.

The funding and the support have been credited to an improved relationship between the school board and county commissioners.

“I think the funding has been huge,” Bertie County Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Chip Zullinger said of that relationship. “Our board built that relationship before I got here and I’ve worked hard to maintain it.

“I think the school board and county commissioners working together is how we build a community,” he added. “Our county commissioners have worked hard to help our schools – not just in funding, but also in support. You rarely go to one of our events when a county commissioner is not there.”

Dr. Zullinger said the success the district had achieved was in part because of that support.

“Whatever success we’ve had, the county commissioners have played a lead role in because of the support they’ve give us.”

Bertie County Commission Chairman Norman M. Cherry Sr. said he and the other commissioners had committed themselves to providing whatever was possible for the school district.

“Anything you become in life starts with education,” he stressed. “That’s the beginning point. You have to be educated no matter what profession you choose in life.

“As commissioners, we strongly believe it is our job to support the efforts of the school system to educate our young people,” he continued. “We want to make sure the children of Bertie County get what they need as far as support.”

Cherry said he believed previous boards of commissioners did the best they could to fund education and this board was doing the same. He said that although two former educators sit on the board (Cherry and Commissioner Charles Smith) it has little to do with the support.

“We look to those with particular knowledge in certain areas for guidance,” Cherry said. “For example, we look to Commissioner J. Wallace Perry for help in law enforcement because that is his background. Because of that, Commissioner Smith and I may lead in the area of education.

“All five members of the board, however, are believers in education,” he continued. “It’s a group decision to support education.”

Cherry said other districts suffered because the commissioners and school boards couldn’t agree, but he never wanted to see that happen.

“Children should never sacrifice because of issues between two boards,” he said. “We work together to move forward.”

Bertie County Board of Education Chairwoman Emma H. Johnson said the support of the commissioners had allowed the school board to implement programs and plans that had proven successful.

“We have had such a good relationship with the county commissioners,” she said. “They have been very cooperative in seeing that our students are prepared for the 21st century.

Johnson identified the Bertie County School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), the Agri-Science School (Early College High School), Ninth Grade Academy and teacher incentives among the programs commissioners had helped fund.

She also mentioned the approval the Bertie County Commissioners gave to seek funding for the renovation of Bertie High School.

The reason those funds have been available, according to Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb, is the open lines of communication between the governing body and the schools.

“The lines of communication between the two boards are as positive as they’ve been in many years,” he said. “I think the board of education realizes now that they have a school system-friendly board of commissioners. They try to work with the commissioners to improve the public education system in Bertie County. That’s not always the case in other counties.”

Smith said he thought his background as a school district administrator helped him understand the needs of the system.

“I worked for the school system for 34 years,” he said. “I know the help they need. They need all the funding help they can get. I honestly think education is the way out of everything.”

Smith said he believed the North Carolina General Assembly should set aside school funding first and then build the budget around it.

“Education needs to be on top and it will help everything move up from the bottom,” he said. “Unless we educate people, the only jobs will be building prisons to put uneducated people in.”

Smith, who is a regular at functions of the school district, said he believed it was important for the children to know the commissioners were supporting them.

“Children know you care for them when you’re at their functions,” he said. “I enjoy being around the children. They make me feel young.”

Smith also credited Lamb with being a key factor in making sure funding was available to the schools and the relationship between the two remained so positive.

Board of education member Rickey Freeman, who served as chairman of the school board during most of the time the funding levels increase, said he was pleased with the relationship between the two boards.

“We appreciate the funding the county commissioners have been able to give,” Freeman said. “The fact they were able to give us a five percent increase and still hold the tax rate in this tough economy is incredible.

“It says a lot about their commitment to education,” he added. “We’re going to be good stewards of the money they provide us.”