Bertie School Board seeks funding hike

Published 5:53 pm Sunday, June 14, 2015

WINDSOR – In a joint meeting held at the old Bertie High School here on June 8, the Bertie County Board of Commissioners and the County’s Board of Education (BOE) met to discuss the schools’ funding proposal for the upcoming budget, which the Commissioners will seek to adopt at their regular meeting on Monday, June 15.

The meeting was a continuation of the Commissioners’ first Monday meeting recessed from June 2.

What the two sides hope to come up with is a funding amount they can both agree on.

Both Boards received a report from Scott Hancock, Principal Engineer of Piedmont-based S&ME Engineering that performed a study at the new Bertie High School based of concerns raised by Commissioners on the structural integrity of the building.

The Boards were shown various images of flaws in the building following the completion of construction including cracks in the walls and buckles in the flooring, but Hancock made it clear these flaws presented no safety risk to the staff and students.

After that was a presentation where Martin Community College President, Dr. Ann Britt and Norman Cherry, Interim Director of the Martin Community College – Bertie Campus, told the Boards they were there that evening to “plant the seed” for a welding program to be offered by MCC at the old Bertie High campus with a majority of teaching and equipment costs covered by the college.

While the two Boards liked the idea, with funding at such a premium it was suggested to reach out to various employers, including NUCOR, to see if a partnership was possible to assist in sponsoring the program.

The Commissioners and the BOE then participated in a tour of recent renovations at the old high school which will serve as the Board of Education’s new Central Offices.  The renovations, completed by members of the Bertie Co. Schools’ Maintenance Department, featured a new Board Room, a new conference room, and administrative offices. It will also now serve as home to both the new Emergency Management Technician (EMT) Cadet program offered by Roanoke-Chowan Community College as well as various non-profit organizations.

The two Boards then began discussion ensued regarding BOE’s portion of the County’s proposed 2015-16 budget.

The preliminary county budget for education recommended $2,503,000 for current expense and $250,000 for capital outlay. At the budget presentation, County Manager Scott Sauer stated these recommendations were predicated on no tax increase as well as avoiding additional appropriation of fund balance reserves.

After a discussion of nearly an hour it was requested that the BOE provide a spreadsheet that would specifically break down the purpose of the funds requested in excess of the budget requested in FY 2014-2015.  The school board was also encouraged to attend the county’s public hearing for the budget at the June 15 meeting; and the current meeting was adjourned.

The Commissioners met again on June 9, this time in the Commissioner’s Room, where Sauer reviewed his analysis and recommendations relative to the school board’s request for additional current expense and capital outlay funding for next year.

Sauer noted that he reviewed the County’s debt service requirements for school financing and the calculated use of capital reserve funds to meet these annual obligations. Sauer’s presentation included a two-year budget review of estimated revenues and projections.

“We think we can make it work if the economy remains stable,” Sauer said later while cautioning that it is impossible to accurately predict the future.

Sauer explained that he and county finance director William Roberson have estimated that the Board has limited flexibility to increase school funding.

Sauer’s budget plan cited declining student enrollment, a desire to work with the school board to retain high quality teachers, and the willingness to find a compromise on the funding issue. The Commissioners acknowledged increases in operating expenses due to the addition of the new high school, the continued use of the former high school campus, and the fiscal burden of maintaining the current number of campuses across the county.

The Commissioners recommended Sauer and Roberson incorporate an additional $500,000 for current expense and an additional $15,000 for capital outlay within the 2015-16 budget.

Since 2013, the school board has had to utilize its own fund balance to cover annual operating expenses, and because of the use of those funds, the fund balance has been pretty much used up.

With a near-half million dollar difference in the school board’s request and the preliminary budget proposal, the County Manager and Finance Director are recommending getting the schools’ budget back to 2012-13 levels when they operated with $3.003 million.

The two (Sauer and Roberson) further proposed a capital outlay of $265,000, a compromise of the school board’s request of $375,000 and the original recommendation of $250,000.