More Funding Sought for Public Schools
Supporters of the public schools poured into the former courtroom of the historic courthouse Monday night when the Moore County Board of Commissioners held the 2009-10 budget hearing.
And most of them spoke their piece in favor of more funding for the schools. Some speakers actually asked the board not to cut the property tax rate by one cent as recommended by the county manager.
A sprinkling of speakers called attention to economic hard times and expressed support for the tax cut.
"We live in uncertain times," said Jonathan Scott of Vass, who said he wanted to address the audience, not the commissioners. "By the end of 2009, we will be glad to have a few dollars in our pocket. If we don't need those dollars, give it to someone who does."
Later in the meeting, after the hearing had been closed, Board Chairman Nick Picerno defended county funding of the schools and pointed out that the recommended budget for the new fiscal year actually contains more money for the school system than was allocated for the current year.
"We are not decreasing spending," Picerno said. "We are spending more for the schools than we spent last year."
Picerno said the recommended budget for 2009-2010 contains $32,286,322 for the schools, out of the General Fund total of $87.5 million. The county budgeted $31,798,652 for the schools last year. His totals include debt service, an automatic expense that is not normally covered in the schools' budget request. The school budget request covers current expenses and capital outlay, not debt service, the term for indebtedness incurred by voter-approved bond issues.
However, the overwhelming majority of the speakers urged the board to fund in full the Board of Education request.
The school board's request actually totaled more than $26 million, the same amount budgeted for the 2008-2009 year. Debt service adds more than $1.1 million to that figure. County Manager Cary McSwain's recommended budget provides $26.3 million for the schools, mostly for current expenses (operational funds).
School officials pointed out, however, that if the commissioners approve McSwain's proposed budget, the system will receive less funding for operations than it did this year.
The plight of the schools is principally the result of state revenue shortfalls in the billions of dollars, not cutbacks at the county level.
School Superintendent Susan Purser made that clear in her comments during the hearing. She said the Moore County system can expect up to $4 million in reduced funding from the state, which normally provides the bulk of the financial support.
Purser said that state cutbacks, along with the county's tightened budget, translate into the loss of 60 teaching positions for the next school year. This will also mean larger class sizes.
"We are in the people business," she said. "We serve people through people."
Purser cited these losses from the state: $484,043 already returned to the state, $250,000 seized from the lottery fund, at least $400,000 in capital funds diverted, $1.8 million in capital funds and lottery funds frozen, $342,152 in funds reverted to the state in May, all this along with a salary decrease of half a percentage point for all personnel.
The state losses equal 51 teaching positions, she said, adding that the cutback in operational budget at the local level will mean the loss of another nine teaching positions, bringing the total to 60.
Robert Hayter, a business owner, called attention to heavy reductions in real estate market value, down an estimated 38.6 percent. He said the subsequent loss to individual income represents a $12,500 net loss "for every man, woman and child" in the county.
Don't Cut Taxes
School supporters countered with reminders of the value of good schools to the community as a whole.
Melody Crow, of Pinehurst, said she does not expect county government to pay for everything but reminded the board that parents work hard to raise money for classroom needs and volunteer in the schools, that teachers apply for grants and spend their own money to meet classroom needs and local businesses sponsor multiple events for the schools.
"We cannot replace a teacher," Crow said in urging the board to reconsider school funding.
Ernest Hansford, a Southern Pines retiree, drew a round of applause when he expressed his opinion that the tax rate should not be cut this year. He said that cuts this year would just mean an increase next year.
"I don't think this is the time to cut the tax rate," he said. "The county needs that money."
Ella Richards, of Vass, who works at Fort Bragg, said that the upcoming base expansion means that the county has the potential of attracting large numbers of military families and others who will be part of that expansion. She said the quality of the education system is one of the primary selling points in such situations.
"It's not easy to get people to relocate if the schools are not good," Richards said.
Bobby Purvis called the school budget request "fair and reasonable" and said it takes economic conditions into consideration.
And most members of the audience rose to their feet when Ellie Collins said she would prefer that the county keep the tax cut, estimated at $10 on a house valued at $100,000, and use that money to stimulate the economy.
Rollie Sampson, of Aberdeen, another parent, told of a clothes closet maintained at her school and of numerous fundraisers to benefit the school.
"The schools have gotten into fundraising instead of educating our children," Sampson said. "There's no place left to cut, except staffing."
Other speakers included Lorna Clack, a member of Board of Education, and Kathy Farren, chairwoman of the school board.
Clare Ruggles, executive director of the Northern Moore Family Resource Center, told of the importance of supporting the schools to enhance family and community life and maintain the economy.
Other Pleas Made
Although most of the 30 speakers were representing school interests, other issues were raised during the hearing.
George Little, chairman of the Sandhills Community College Board of Trustees, and fellow trustee Eugene Horne asked for more funding for the college. Little said that as a result of the failing economy, the college expects a 10 percent increase in enrollment and must reduce the work week from five to four days.
"We're educating the Moore County work force," Little said.
Mary Jo Morris made a plea for restoration of four part-time employees at the Animal Shelter, where this cutback will reduce services, especially adoption of animals during Saturday hours. She said the loss of the part-time workers will mean that full-time personnel must handle weekend duties of caring for animals, and, with overtime wages no longer authorized, this will mean that compensatory time-off must be taken during regular work hours.
Morris said that the cutback will mean fewer adoptions, leading to more costly euthanizations of adoptable pets.
Earlier in the day, Morris said, a man dropped off 29 cats at the Animal Shelter and said he would be returning later with more cats.
After the hearing, Commission-er Tim Lea told the audience that all five members of the board are products of the Moore County Schools. Lea and Commissioner Cindy Morgan are former members of the college board, and Commissioner Larry Caddell continues to serve on the board as vice-chair.
The commissioners took no action on the budget. They are scheduled to discuss the budget as part of the agenda for their Thursday work session. The budget is to be adopted at a special meeting on June 8.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story