Jim Sides: The county commission-school board relationship
A great deal has been said recently about the relationship between the Board of County Commissioners (BOC) and the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education (BOE). The question most often asked is, “who is in charge?” The answer to that question is not really complicated. It does, however, depend to some degree on the topic of discussion. The most recent topic has been the central office for the school system, which will be addressed later in this article.
The Board of County Commissioners is an elected body, established by the NC Legislature and elected by all voting age and properly registered voters of the county in which they reside. Chapter 153A, Articles 1-24, of the NC General Statutes describes in detail the makeup, authority and form of county government. These statutes clearly define for the BOC their areas of responsibility to the citizens they serve.
The Board of Education, also, is an elected body, established by the NC Legislature and elected by all voting age and properly registered voters of the county in which they reside. Chapter 115C, Articles 1-40, of the NC General Statutes, describes in detail the makeup, authority and areas of responsibility of the BOE to the citizens they serve.
These two sections of the NC General Statutes provide a good background for anyone who desires to more fully understand the separate and distinct roles to be carried out by each of these boards. More than one afternoon would be required to digest all the information provided.
It is clearly to be seen from the NC General Statutes that the responsibilities of both the BOC and the BOE are great and numerous. One of the major differences, and one of the most contentious points between the two boards, is the fact that the NC Legislature has established the BOC as the taxing authority for the county, and not the BOE. The BOC acts as a funding partner, along with the state and federal government, in supplying the bulk of the finances for the operation and capital expenditures of the school system. When it comes to finances, the decision as to how much in local tax dollars goes to the schools is left up to the BOC. This separation of powers, and system of checks and balances, was put in place by the Legislature to ensure that cooperation between the two boards would be required for local school building and operational needs to be met. No blank checks are written from the BOC to the BOE. When the BOE believes that it is not receiving sufficient funding to carry out its statutory responsibility for current expense and/or capital outlay, they may proceed with a dispute resolution process as outlined in NC G.S. 115C-431. Legal opinions, obtained by the local BOE, have stated that budget disputes should be a last resort and should be initiated only after very serious consideration and a determination that additional funding is truly necessary, as this process would place the BOC and the BOE in an adversarial process in court.
With that background information, let’s approach the question of the central office for the Rowan-Salisbury School System. I do not know of anyone who questions the NEED for this building; a need we have all heard has existed for at least the last 23 years. I do know there are a great number of people who question the timing and the priority for this building, especially when the BOE in January of 2012 supplied the BOC with a detailed list of at least $29,000,000 worth of CURRENT capital needs for the existing school buildings in Rowan County. There are also many who question the motives behind the downtown location selected for the building by certain parties involved. While I will not go there in this article, I will state that had everyone involved done their homework, brick and mortar for this building would possibly be coming out of the ground today; and hence, there would be no argument regarding the location, as it is up to the BOE to decide location.
My argument for not supporting this building today is simple. I think you should pay off debt before you incur new debt. I think you should not steal from current needs to satisfy future needs. The current plan to finance this building would divert approximately $600,000 per year from the school capital improvement fund. This would mean that at least $600,000 in needed repairs would not be made at the existing schools each year this money is used for debt service payments. In 2016, $2,000,000 per year in current debt service payments will be paid off. This is from the 1993 bond program. If we waited until 2016 to build the central office, we would not have to divert funds from the current capital expense fund to finance it. In 2016, we could even consider a new and expanded bond program to address this, as well as other capital needs in the school system. This, to me, is a much better option for the citizens of Rowan County who ultimately will pay for this building.
I fully accept that the conditions at the Long Street Administrative Offices are not the best. However, other alternatives to meet that need have been presented to the BOE and rejected.
Jim Sides is chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. This is the first of three articles he has asked the Post to publish. Email: Jim.Sides@rowancounty.gov.