Schools to dispute county funding under state statute

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 26, 2013

SALISBURY — The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education is disputing county commissioners’ cuts to its budget under state law.
The school board passed a resolution Tuesday that says the funds appropriated by the Rowan County Board of Commissioners for the 2013-14 school year “are not sufficient… to support a system of free public schools.”
That includes appropriations to both the local current expense fund, which pays for operation of the school system, and the capital outlay fund.
The board approved the resolution unanimously after a nearly three-hour closed session during a called meeting Tuesday.
According to state statute, if the local Board of Education determines that its funding from the county is not sufficient, it can begin a budget dispute procedure.
The statute calls for a joint meeting between the Board of Education and the Board of County Commissioners to be scheduled within seven days of the county commissioners’ budget decision, which took place Monday.
According to the resolution, a mediator for the budget dispute can either be jointly selected by the two boards or appointed by the senior resident Superior Court judge.
Earlier in Tuesday’s meeting, the board heard an update on the budget from Chief Financial Officer Tara Trexler.
The school board requested a $4.6 million increase in operational funds from the county, and it submitted a list of $24 million worth of capital needs for approval.
Commissioners instead approved the county manager’s recommendation of a $225,000 decrease in funding due to a projected drop in enrollment.
The commissioners did vote to grant an additional amount up to $225,000 if the final state budget gives the county more sales tax revenue. Trexler said the House proposal includes this money, while the Senate one does not.
That money would hold the schools harmless for the enrollment decrease, but school officials said they would still have to make significant cuts.
“A budget from the county commissioners that holds us harmless or reduces us is not sufficient,” said Board Chairman Richard Miller after the meeting.
In May, the school system notified more than 50 teachers that their positions were being terminated. By June 4, nine of them had been hired back, and officials said they hoped to re-hire many of the 45 others as positions open up over the summer.
The state budget also will likely reduce funding for teacher assistants. The Senate’s proposal would effectively cut funding for 121 teacher assistants in Rowan-Salisbury. The proposal from the House would still reduce funding, but by a smaller amount.
The resolution passed Tuesday says the board has considered the county’s tax base, fund balance and “ability to more adequately support public education and fully fund the Board of Education’s funding requests.”
It also says the board has considered “the cumulative effect of the County of Rowan’s inadequate appropriations… in the preceding fiscal years.”
Miller said that this year is the breaking point because of the amount of state and federal funding being lost, through grants and other appropriations.
In addition to softening the blow of those losses, the requested increase also would have paid half the cost of placing school resource officers in every middle school. Local law enforcement agencies were expected to pay the other half.
County commissioners have said they can’t afford to make up the funding that the state or federal governments take away. But Miller said the budget dispute goes beyond that.
“There are a number of operational costs — that are the county’s responsibility — for the local employees that are increasing,” Miller said. “And no money was given for capital expenses.”
Instead, the board will continue to rely on an estimated $1.5 million to $2 million from state sales tax revenue to pay for capital projects like construction and repairs.
Included high on the list of capital needs are the construction of a new Woodleaf Elementary School, an energy savings project and various school safety improvements.

Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.