Joint appeal

Published 10:51 am Tuesday, March 29, 2016

WINDSOR – The Bertie County Board of Commissioners and the county’s Board of Education met March 21 and said they will make a joint effort to see that the state’s Low Wealth Supplemental Funding is restored to Bertie County Schools for the 2016-17 school year.

At stake could be over $1 milion in state funding.

Low Wealth Supplemental Funds are part of the state’s Disadvantaged Student Supplemental Fund (DSSF), established in 2004 by the General Assembly to improve student performance in North Carolina. Originally, 16 disadvantaged districts selected for funding were defined by high poverty, low student performance, and high teacher turnover. However, after the initial year of funding, the formula was changed to supplement funding across all North Carolina schools.

Specifically, Low Wealth Supplemental Funds provide supplemental funds in counties that do not have the ability to generate local revenue to support public schools. Local boards of education are encouraged to use at least 25% of the funds received pursuant to this section to improve the academic performance of children who are performing at Level I or II on either reading or mathematics end-of-grade tests in grades 3-thru-8 and children who are performing at Level I or II on the writing tests in grades 4 and 7.

Earlier in March, Bertie Schools Superintendent Elaine White received correspondence from the Department of Public Instruction’s Office of Financial and Business Services saying that expense appropriation per student must be at least 95 percent of the average of the local expense appropriation per student for the last three fiscal years (FY).

As of June 2014 that appropriation should have been $1,016.62 but according to the state’s analysis it was $838.81.

The purpose of the March 21 meeting was for the two boards to meet to discuss that correspondence and to develop a strategy to respond to the NCDPI.

With the Board of Education’s help, County Manager Scott Sauer prepared a summary of the county’s funding for school expense and capital outlay since 2001.

“I believe that the county can make a strong case for the budget strategy that was developed at the time the new high school financing that was approved in late 2012, which will clarify the county’s prudent funding approach,” Sauer stated.

“It is my understanding that the Board of Education had not submitted audited financial statements to the NC Local Government Commission for two fiscal years (both FY 09-10 and FY 11-12), and moreover that the school system had adequate cash reserves.”

Sauer went on to say the county and the Board of Education cooperated to prepare the budgets for FY 13-14 and 14-15 using approximately $500,000 of school reserves to meet local current expense budget requirements. At stake were school positions, some of which had to be eliminated.

“These funds were local funds previously appropriated by the county, and were remaining in the school system’s fund balance,” the County Manager indicated.

The Low Wealth funding has been restored for FY 2015-2016, but for 2016-17 Bertie County Schools must show it has (a) remedied the funding deficiency, or (b) that extraordinary circumstances caused the county to supplant local current expense funds with funds allocated for Low Wealth Supplemental funding.

To satisfy the first option, the county must appropriate $530,594 to the county’s schools to replace the 2013-14 deficiency, and appropriate the same amount to the schools to restore the current local appropriation to the 95 percent average, which would be a total of $1,061,188.

If the county does the second option, they must document to the state that an economic emergency caused the deficit in the current appropriation.

“Using a strict interpretation of the Low Wealth Supplemental funding formula, I can understand how an analyst at the State level may have interpreted the county’s budget efforts as ‘supplanting’ and therefore disqualifying the county for future low wealth appropriations from the State,” Sauer said upon review.

“On balance, however, I believe that Bertie County can demonstrate that the two elected boards worked in tandem to meet its challenging economic environment, and found a solution acceptable to the NC Local Government Commission needed to approve the $22 million in financing for the new high school.”

In 2012 the county gave Bertie County Schools an additional $500,000 to help with the costs of the new high school. That could possibly qualify as “an economic emergency”.

“My argument is that amount ($500,000) should have been counted when the audit was completed,” said Commissioner Ronald “Ron” Wesson.

The meeting concluded with the superintendent agreeing to work with the County Manager to resolve the situation and both pledged to expedite a solution.

Documentation and certification by Bertie County Schools of either the additional appropriation from the county of the $1.06 million or the economic emergency must be submitted to the NCSPI’s Division of School Business before allotments for 2016-17 are issued.

If supplanting is determined, the county would lose the Low Wealth Supplemental funding for the next school year, but Board of Commissioners Chairman John Trent says both parties are obligated to find the best solution.