Shortfall times two

Published 11:46 am Monday, May 7, 2012

JACKSON – The Northampton County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education sat down for their final group meeting on Tuesday as agreed in last year’s mediation.

The officials discussed an array of topics, mostly about their upcoming budgets, which are both facing large shortfalls, and the lack in local funding for both the local school system and the county.


Where both budgets stand

County Manager Wayne Jenkins said he along with Finance Officer Dot Vick have been working on the budget for the past three weeks and he has two more departmental budgets to review.

In February, the commissioners approve the 2012-13 planning allotment for the school system with current expense at $3,161,538 and capital outlay at $345,000 ($3.5 million in tax dollars). Jenkins added that total did not include fines and forfeitures from the court system that are earmarked for schools.

“Using current year as baseline revenue and the expenditures that have been requested for 2013, we are $1.7 million short of meeting our budget,” he said.

Jenkins noted last December, Schools Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy made the county aware that he was expecting the school system to lose at least $1 million of federal stimulus funding for the upcoming school year.

Schools Finance Director Joe Holloway said the district has already been put on notice that $1.1 million will have to be sent back to the state.

“The state gives you your money, and then says give me $1.1 million of it back,” said Dr. Bracy.

The commissioners questioned if the schools were receiving the same level of funding as they had the year before.

Jenkins said it was not because the mediated settlement called for this funding level, plus an additional $100,000 to be paid to the school system on or before June 30. He added the latter has been paid.

“Is that $100,000 included in this?” asked Bracy.

“No sir,” Jenkins responded.

“So we’ve been cut $100,000,” said Bracy.

“No sir, last year that $100,000 was special appropriation through the commissioners,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins added the schools are being funded at the same level as recommended and the $100,000 was not in that figure.

Bracy responded it was not the same level of funding because the $100,000 was not there.

“We have $100,000 less to operate than we did last year,” he said.

After further discussion, Commissioner Virginia Spruill noted the $100,000 was for a settlement and not part of the school district’s original budget.

The group discussed the topic of taxes after Board of Education member Lafayette Majette suggested taxes be raised to help support the schools.

“You cut the school system to keep from raising taxes,” Majette said.

“Mr. Majette we can settle that by giving you the taxing authority to tax yourselves,” Spruill said. “We can give you the taxing authority, by way of the General Assembly, you can tax yourself and use your own money.”

Assistant Superintendent Phil Matthews questioned if the 2012-13 allotment was based on what the county had to offer or based on what school officials said they need to operate.

“We submitted to you a needs-based budget,” Matthews questioned.

“No, I have not received any request yet from the school system,” said Jenkins.

He added in the absence of not receiving any requests, the county plugs in same level funding to move the budget process along.

Matthews asked when the school officials should present the needs to the commissioners.

“As soon as possible,” said Vick.


School needs

Holloway said the schools budget was worked on by the Finance Committee last week and it currently stood at $4.2 million.

“If you take into consideration the allocations from the county, fines and forfeitures, indirect costs, insurance settlement, fund balance we’re going to use, sales tax, we will still need an additional $680,000 from some other source and we’re actually looking at the county for that,” he said.

Jenkins said adding that approximate $700,000 to the already $1.7 million budget shortfall would leave the county approximately $2.4 million short.

Bracy said in the December work group meeting the county discussed with school officials setting aside a fund as they worked toward a new high school.

Jenkins said the county has been unable to put anything toward that effort.

“If you recall there was a pledge between the two boards to work collectively to build a new high school and for every dollar the school system could save and put for the county would match that,” Jenkins said. “That pledge is still out there, but there’s been no action on behalf of either board.”

Commissioner Robert Carter questioned if Northampton County Schools would see a reduction in costs now that the district would have only one high school.

“We wanted to improve our services under the one roof and offer the 9-12 grade students a first class education,” Bracy responded.

Bracy said the district will now be able to offer classes that have never been available to students in this part of the state and officials have put some things together that are “concrete.”

“That does have some costs, Mr. Carter,” he said. “If you want to cut it to the bone, sure, but I’m not willing to cut education to the bone. We can’t do it. We’ve cut as deep as we can cut to be quite candid with you.”

Matthews added when merger presentation was presented there may have been savings with a new high school, then the district could have closed one of the high schools.

“What we’re doing now, we’re not closing a facility at all,” he said. “If we had that new high school it would have been more economical to operate and you would have been able to close Squire and (Northampton) East. We didn’t get that new high school, so we’re merging for curriculum purposes and student services purposes, not necessary a dollars savings.”

School Board Vice Chair Marjorie Edwards said there were still renovations to be done at East to get it up to speed for the additional students.

“Frankly, and this is nobody’s fault, there’s never been enough to fund education,” Jenkins said, adding that this was the 12th budget he had worked on. “We’ve always funded it right at that level or made it on the back side of it. We’ve never been able to get you over that hill of funding.”

Jenkins said he takes the schools’ request as he has taken from each county department and places it before the board to decide upon.

“We’re not going to get to $2.4 million, we’re not going to get your $700,000, we’re not going to get the county’s $1.7 million, but some where in between zero and what we get to, I hope that we can work toward and agree to move the county forward with what we have,” said Jenkins.

Commissioner Fannie Greene noted that with the economy being the way it is both entities needed to learn how to do more with less.

Bracy expressed his frustration with the lack of funding for rural communities and noted how it is effecting Northampton County Schools’ students.

“It really puts our kids at a disadvantage,” he said. “Where you live should not dictate (your level of education).”

The two boards also discussed possibly adding an incentive for the schools with the upcoming regulations on Internet Cafes and possibly the I-95 tolls, if they are put in place.