County says it can’t give school system $4.6 million increase
SALISBURY — Rowan County can’t afford to give the school system its requested $4.6 million funding increase, county commissioners said Monday.
Representatives from the Rowan-Salisbury School System presented the 2013-14 budget request Monday afternoon to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.
The school system is asking for a total of $36.4 million from the county for its operational budget, up from the $31.8 million allocated in 2012-13.
The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education has agreed to add $1 million that it will take out of its fund balance, bringing its local budget increase to $5.6 million.
Commissioners didn’t vote on the budget request Monday, but they did ask questions and make comments.
Chairman Jim Sides said the only way the county could meet the school system’s request is by raising taxes, and he doesn’t believe a majority would vote to do that.
“There’s no way you’re getting $4.6 million, not in this world, so you need to go back and sharpen your pencils and make some cuts,” Sides said.
Tara Trexler, chief finance officer for the school system, said the system is expected to face a $4.8 million deficit because of state cuts, expiring federal grant money and other expenses. Another $800,000 would save five federal grant-funded positions and pay for safety-related expansion items.
“We have been working with the sheriff’s department to see how we may return school resource officers to our middle schools, and we included half of that figure in our request,” Trexler said.
A majority of commissioners agreed that the county cannot make up for state and federal funding cuts. They said according to state law, the state should be funding the operational expenses of the schools, and the county should be funding capital expenses like buildings and equipment.
Essentially, those responsibilities have now flipped around.
“Every time the state cuts money from the budget, the school system comes and wants more money from the county,” said Commissioner Craig Pierce. “That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. We’ve been doing it this way for a long time, and I just think it’s time to stop.”
Sides said if the state isn’t going to meet its obligation, it should help counties figure out how much they should give for the schools’ operational costs. The state uses a formula to calculate its own school funding, he said.
“I just wish the state would give us a formula so we don’t have to have this argument about whether we’re giving enough money or not,” Sides said.
He said the Board of Commissioners is not the enemy of the schools, and in fact, it has been more of a friend than the state.
“They cut you, and most of the time, we don’t,” Sides said. He said the county has sometimes given more per pupil when enrollment goes down.
He said he is working with the N.C. Association of County Commissioners and state legislators to find a solution, and he hopes the school system will do the same.
Trexler said the system has faced a $24 million reduction and eliminated 200 positions in the past few years.
That includes $345,000 reverted to the county in March 2009, and another $1 million cut in the 2011-12 county budget, said Commissioner Jon Barber.
“My perspective is we shouldn’t starve our children’s education,” Barber said. He added that the county shouldn’t “aspire to mediocrity” by aiming just for state average per pupil funding.
Gene Miller, assistant superintendent of operations, presented the school system’s capital outlay budget of about $26.7 million. The system is requesting about $24.4 million of that total from the county.
That’s nearly $23 million more than the amount the county allocated this year.
“The board instructed to me to present a list to commissioners of what was needed,” Miller said.
Topping the list of building improvements is a new Woodleaf Elementary School, which would cost $13.5 million. Second is the school system’s central administration building costing $8 million.
Also on the list is a $1.2 million system-wide safety program that would install front door cameras and upgrade intercom systems at the schools.
Miller said these proposals come out of a capital needs list totaling $109.9 million that was approved by the board in January.
Commissioner Chad Mitchell said the county has fallen behind on its “traditional role” of paying for those needs, because it instead pays for operational expenses that should be funded by the state.
He said he’d like to find a way to fund more capital needs in the future, but the county has had to cut its own budget over the past few years.
“I know the school system can get a bad rap for not making more cuts, but had they made all the cuts necessary, the school system may have been all but decimated,” Mitchell said. “But we can’t make up for all of those cuts — that’s the bottom line — unless we pare back other areas of our budget.”
In other business
Also at Monday’s meeting, Rowan County Commissioners:
• Agreed to apply for a Help Americans Vote Act (HAVA) grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The $40,463 grant would allow the purchase of 47 booths, which are designed to meet ADA accessibility requirements, to be used at all precincts and one-stop sites. The new booths would also replace several broken and damaged booths. No matching funds are required for the grant.
• Appointed Julian Burton as a review officer to review plats prior to presentation to the register of deeds for recording. This will provide Rowan County with a third review officer, along with Ed Muire and Shane Stewart.
• Revoked former employees Andrew Goodall and Fredda Greer as appointed review officers for Rowan County.
• Set a public hearing for May 20 to consider a request from James Sides Jr. (Commissioner Jim Sides) and Phyllis Sides regarding the rezoning of four parcels totaling 7.1 acres located along the 100 Block of Henkle Craig Farm Road from commercial, business, industrial (CBI) and manufactured home park (MHP) to residential agricultural (RA).
• Set a public hearing for May 20 consider Rafeal Garcia’s parallel conditional use rezoning request. The request is for a rezoning of one acre owned by Oziel Escamilla from rural agricultural (RA) to commercial, business, industrial (CBI) with an accompanying conditional use district (CUD) to accommodate an auto sales business.
• Adopted a revised Cabarrus-Rowan Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) memorandum of understanding.
• Approved an updated County Management Records Retention and Disposition Schedule provided by the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.
• Approved two grant resolutions for the airport hangar project. The grant amounts are $250,000 for hangar site development and $320,000 for hangar project construction expenses. Both grants from the N.C. Department of Transportation, Division of Aviation, require a 10 percent county match.
• Approved the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council 2013-14 funding plan.
• Approved a resolution opposing N.C. House Bill 870, which would require all bodies to record meetings held in closed session.
• Approved a proclamation for the Purple Heart Trail, the parade route for a motorcycle tribute that is part of a Veterans Day weekend celebration.
• Proclaimed May 12-18, 2013, as Law Enforcement Week and May 15, 2013, as Peace Officers’ Memorial Day.
• Proclaimed May as Shield a Badge with Prayer Awareness Month.
• Proclaimed May 2013 as Community Action Month, urging all residents to recognize the hard work and dedication of the Salisbury-Rowan Community Action Agency.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.