Commissioners defend school cuts

Published 9:43 am Monday, June 27, 2011

JACKSON — Northampton County government officials are speaking out after the Board of Education agreed to contest their education allocation in the county’s set budget.

On Tuesday, a day after the Board of Education’s decision, in an interview with the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, County Manager Wayne Jenkins and Commission Chairperson Fannie Greene defended the commissioners’ removal of $393,462 from the school district’s current expense local allotment.

The county budget, approved by the commissioners on Monday, appropriates $3,606,538 to the school system. Of that amount, $3,161,538 is allotted to current expense, $345,000 to capital outlay and $100,000 from fines and forfeitures.

Hours after the budget passed, a special called meeting of the Board of Education was held and members of that board agreed to determine that the amount of money appropriated to the local current expense fund by the board of county commissioners was not sufficient to support a system of free public schools and to begin the budget dispute process outlined in North Carolina General Statute 115C-431 with the county commissioners.

General Statute 115C-431 sets the procedure for resolution of dispute between the Board of Education and the County Commissioners. The chair of the board of education and the chair 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.

Facing a tough budget year, it was required the county departments cut back to the bare minimum on their budgets.

Both Greene and Jenkins said the school reduction was just a part of $1.24 million in cuts included in the budget.

“The public needs to know it was not only the school system that saw a reduction in their budget,” said Greene in a phone interview.

According to Jenkins, the Department of Social Services was cut by $100,000, the budget for EMS was reduced by $198,355 and the Sheriff’s Office budget was decreased by $308,462.

The decision to remove the $393,462 from the schools came during the commissioners second budget work session held May 23 and after operating budgets were reduced to the “bare bones.”

After those reductions, the commissioners were still left with a $393,462 shortfall in their budget and it was decided to cut the school system’s allocation.

“That was after taking from all of the departments,” said Greene.

Jenkins said upon the commissioners’ decision, he notified Schools Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy via a hand delivered letter.  There were attempts to schedule a joint meeting between the two boards, but the meeting ultimately never occurred.

Jenkins and Bracy exchanged four emails between the end of May and June 8. In that latter email, Bracy asked Jenkins if the board had taken the $393,462 from any specific line item submitted.

Jenkins responded that the commissioners did not address line items within the schools budget and the $393,462 was a lump sum reduction. Adjustments within that budget were left solely to school officials discretion.

Since that June 8 email from Bracy, Jenkins said he had not heard from school officials until a letter dated June 17 was delivered his office on Monday, hours before the budget hearing.

That letter, which told of the affects the allocation cut would have including reductions to teacher supplements as well as athletic and band programs, was read at the budget public hearing.

Greene said she believed in education 100 percent, but cuts to education were happening everywhere, including in nearby counties.

“These are the times we’re living in,” she said.

When asked by the News-Herald if county officials believed the local current expense allocation was not sufficient enough to support public schools, both Jenkins and Greene agreed the allocation provides for “basic sound education.”

Jenkins noted the $393,000 does not take away from instructional supplies or school facilities.

According to Greene on Friday, the county received communication from the school board on Thursday informing the board of the budget contestation.

“Right now we’re in the process of trying to contact them and see if they’ll give us an extension,” she said. “We’re just not prepared (for the Monday deadline).”

Greene noted the county had not been able to arrange for a mediator. She added she hoped to meet with school officials and that something would “hopefully be arranged by Thursday.”