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Editorial: Commissioners should consider increased education funding

It’s no secret that the Rowan-Salisbury School System and county commissioners have, at times, maintained a tense relationship over funding for repairs, capital projects and other needs.

Commissioners control the purse strings of the school system and do not have the final word about the items on which money is spent — that’s what we have a school board for. But, naturally, tough questions arise from commissioners when it’s time to turn over money because, as the argument goes, county government is the one that has to raise taxes and, in turn, takes criticism for doing so.

The good news is that the relationship between the two bodies has improved of late, and it’s our hope that means that the county will invest more heavily in the school system if it judges requests, particularly those related to consolidation and renewal, to be good uses of taxpayer money

Make no mistake, commissioners shouldn’t stop asking tough questions about funding. For example, the first phase of the school system’s closure and consolidation plan presented in November came with a price tag of $117.2 million. The plan would theoretically eliminate a portion of maintenance and capital needs because some schools would no longer exist, but $117.2 million for the first phase of a project is still a lot of dough. Taxpayers will benefit when commissioners double check the school system, even if both entities come to the same conclusion.

Taxpayers will also benefit from a better-funded, more efficient school system. The funding piece may be as simple as more generously allocating funding in a case where commissioners already intended to say “yes” to a request. Becoming more efficient seems likely to require redistricting. It may also require consolidation. Though, we’re still not sure that North Rowan High School should be included among closures and choosing to press pause in January remains the right call.

By spring, we’ll have a sense of RSS’ budget request and how much, if any, it will ask for related consolidation or renewal-related projects. By the end of June, commissioners will need to approve a budget.

It’s our hope that the county gives more serious consideration to whether its budget can handle increased funding for RSS, including debt, and follow through if so.

Funding is not unlimited, but there’s few, if any, better sources for local government to invest taxpayer money than public schools.

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