School funding contested

Published 10:34 am Wednesday, June 22, 2011

JACKSON — The Northampton County Board of Education plans to contest the county budget that was approved by the Northampton County Board of Commissioners on Monday afternoon.

The approved county budget includes a $393,462 reduction to the school system’s local current expense appropriation.

Monday evening, the school board approved a motion to determine that the amount of money appropriated to the local current expense fund by the board of county commissioners is not sufficient to support a system of free public schools in Northampton County and to begin the budget dispute process outlined in North Carolina General Statute 115C-431 with the county commissioners. Board Vice Chair Marjorie Edwards moved to make the motion and Donald Johnson offered a second. The measure passed without objection with Board members Kelvin Edwards Sr. and Erica Smith-Ingram absent from the special called meeting.

Before their decision, school board members met in a lengthy closed session to discuss personnel and attorney-client privilege.

“Just so everyone knows what that means is that (Chair) Bill (Little) will draft a letter and get it hand delivered to the Chair of the County Commissioners (the letter) will state that the board believes that they did not appropriate sufficient funds and has to schedule a joint meeting with the County Commissioners and to hire a mediator,” said Board of Education Attorney Rod Malone.

Malone noted that letter needed to be delievered within seven days.

General Statute 115C-431 sets the procedure for resolution of dispute between the Board of Education and the County Commissioners. The law states that if the Board of Education determines that the amount of money appropriated at a local level is insufficient “the chairman of the board of education and the chairman of the board of county commissioners shall arrange a joint meeting of the two boards to be held within seven days after the day of the county commissioners’ decision on the school appropriations. It further states that prior to the meeting, the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge shall appoint a mediator unless the boards agree to jointly select a mediator. The mediator would preside over the meeting.

The school board decision comes after a letter (dated June 17) was drafted to Commission Chair Fannie Greene. County Manager Wayne Jenkins’ office received that letter on Monday, hours prior to the budget public hearing.

The letter, signed by School Board Chair Bill Little, Vice Chair Marjorie Edwards and Schools Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy, states the negative impacts of the $393,462 reduction on the school system, which school officials say will eliminate local supplements for teachers and administrators as well as the school system losing the “ability to attract quality teachers and administrators.”

“If our budget is reduced by $393,462, it will also force us to consider eliminating our athletic and award winning band programs,” the letter states.

It goes on to list the various band and athletic achievements and stated the school district has met expected growth as a district each of the last three years and its proficiency has increased by 11 percentage points during that same time frame.

Dr. Bracy spoke about the letter and the potential impacts the local cut in funding would have during Monday’s meeting.

“We wrote a letter to the commissioners urging them to consider this request before they adopted their final budget,” he said. “We talked about how the county local government has increased their allotment from 19.2 percent to 55.8 percent and at the school system’s portion of that has been reduced by 12 percent.”

Bracy said the cuts to athletic and band programs “would be a shame.”

“The $393,462 is a large amount of money to be cut from our local allotment,” he said. “Compounding that is what we’re facing from the state, we’ve got a huge discretionary cut that we have to navigate our way through.”

Board member Rhonda Taylor said the letter was well written and it expressed the concerns of those on the Board of Education.

Northampton County Schools Finance Officer Joe Holloway, who attended the County Budget Public Hearing, spoke to the school board members regarding the commissioners’ decision.

“We don’t have a written response as of yet,” Holloway said. “We anticipate getting a formal written response within the next day or so.”

Holloway noted that during the public hearing some of the commissioners requested the letter be read aloud for the other board members and the public.

“It was suggested that no action be taken to increase our allocation,” he said.

The board then began to discuss what the process would be to challenge the local allocation.

Malone noted the seven day period in which the school board could contest and mediate with the county commissioners began Monday.

Bracy said he felt it was important to let school staff and faculty know what the commissioners’ vote meant, especially if it affected supplements.

“We talk about potentially losing supplements, they need to know what this means to them,” he said.

Malone noted that the law set a procedure for the school board to adhere by and the contestation of the allocation would lead to mediation.

“The downside to it is that you pick a very public official fight, so to speak at that point,” he said.

Malone recommended before the board went into closed session for personnel to add attorney-client privilege.