The spring season is full of questions. How good will the strawberries be this year? Are we in for a heavy or moderate pine pollen blizzard? Is the school board headed for yet another budget clash with the Board of Commissioners?

Answers to the first two are still up to the weather, but you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the budget battle will blow. Our forecast: calm skies and mild breezes, finally.

On Monday, the Board of Education took comments on a budget based on one number: 40. That’s the percentage of revenue County Manager Wayne Vest and the Board of Commissioners have agreed to adhere to when it comes to funding a schools budget.

So instead of the usual annual thundering about missed opportunities and short-shrifted kids, school officials appear to have a new strategy: simply to say “thanks for the money” and then go do as they see best to meet the needs and obligations of public education. Gosh, what took so long?

Everyone Needs More

Since becoming schools superintendent more than five years ago, Bob Grimesey has used the budget season as an opportunity to showcase what Moore County Schools could be capable of with more money. Voluminous PowerPoint slides have addressed “good” vs. “tempered” budgets and spending plans with “fluid variables.” His budget speeches have been part pep-talk, part finger-wagging.

“These lofty expectations can only be met,” he said during his first budget in 2015, “if we have a commitment from our community to transform our schools, and to ensure our students are ready for their future.”

In 2017: “This is a time we have to decide for ourselves what responsibility looks like; we’re either going to live with less or we’re going to have to pay more,” he said. “There’s just no way out of this. We’ve pulled enough rabbits out of the hat.”

Each year, Grimesey would tell school board members what they could achieve with more money. Then the commissioners would ultimately fund a budget — wholly adequate, if not quite inspiring — around the 40 percent figure. To suggest commissioners aren’t adequately supporting the cause of public education is wrong.

Indeed, a few million more here and there could do great things for schools. But the same can be said for the Sheriff’s Office, or Emergency Management, or Public Utilities. No department head sets out to plan a merely average level of service. It’s just that we routinely got used to the school district’s passion play each spring.

Just Do It

It’s not that Grimesey and the board have stopped caring. Indeed, their concerns of shortchanged kids remain real and on the record. But the focus this year is on how the district plans to work within that 40 percent figure, which this year will be about $35.6 million, or about $3 million more than the school district got this current fiscal year.

Within its budget, the school district will be able to meet its normal expenditures, cover raises, hire a few new teachers and achieve a long-sought goal of funding a new pay scale for some of its lowest-paid workers: custodians, cafeteria workers and maintenance staff. Right now, a mechanic for Moore County Schools can get a job at Moore County government and make more money. The pay scale seeks to fix that. Last year, the district made this an additional request. This year, without fuss, it found the money.

There’s great good that can be achieved with 40 percent of the county’s revenue, especially with the tax base growing the past year. Yes, we need to do even more. We also need more sheriff’s deputies, more community planners, more sewer repairs — more of everything.

Moore needs more, but it’s positive, without question, to dispatch with the drama and quietly go about effecting positive change with the resources available.

(6) comments

Kent Misegades

But this paper recently quoted the Superintendent as complaining that it’s not possible to deliver the goods at an arbitrary 40%. This paper has suggested that the school board should have taxing authority - which would lead to fiscal disaster for taxpayers. Government school boards everywhere, like the PTA, are a rubber stamp for the school system and the superintendent it hires. The only thing that matters is the NCDPI’s School Report Card, the best means to see what we’re getting for our money. Useful would also be scores on nationally normend exams - something our state abandoned though over 20 years ago when the results remained near the bottom in the country. The fact remains - the best school in Moore County is the Academy of Moore Charter School, built at a fraction of the cost of the new gold-plated MCS K5 schools and at no cost to taxpayers, and operated at a fraction of the cost of government schools. Why are taxpayers forced to buy something that is overpriced and of inferior quality?

Conrad Meyer

I'll start. At the risk of ridicule, I will simply say that I will not vote for ANY new taxes. Especially after the epic tax increase this past year. Figure out how to get the job done with the resources and assets you already have.

Barbara Misiaszek

Nobody likes to pay taxes but I will point out that Moore County,even after the most recent property tax increase, still has the 12th lowest property tax rate of all counties in N.C. At the same time, we are among the very richest counties.

John Misiaszek

Conrad Meyer

First and foremost John, I hope that you and Barbara are doing well in this unprecedented (in my lifetime) health emergency. Please keep us updated.

Secondly, Moore County may be low on the state property tax scale, so be it. But property taxes are only one component of revenue for the county. I could not find a credible breakdown for all sources of income.

Nevertheless, my property taxes rose 26% last year. That is unsustainable. Even if property taxes were increased ANOTHER 25% we would only be 38th on the list I downloaded from the NC Department of Revenue. Frankly, arguing where we are on the property tax list is not a winning strategy at all. I can easily afford to write a bigger check, but I want to hold those accountable for spending OUR taxpayer money (thus far I am totally unimpressed with the performance). I have to wonder whether the Moore County residents outside of Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Woodlake, Seven Lakes, and the other more affluent communities can afford these massive tax increases.

For now, I continue to be a skeptic as to how much money the schools need to have. I see it more as a "like to have" list. If they actually HAVE to have the funds, fine. Just cut some excess fat elsewhere in the County budget.

Sorry for rambling.

Jim Tomashoff

What constitutes the "...excess fat elsewhere in the County budget" in your judgment?

Barbara Misiaszek

Conrad,

Thank you for asking how we are doing. Thankfully, very well. Our wonderful neighbors here in Woodlake check with us regularly re: needs. Not so thankfully (I'm kidding) my wife is a regular Amazon customer (I'm not kidding.) and stuff arrives at our door virtually every day! My wife's closets have received some well needed maintenance and my lawn and gardens are probably in better shape going into the spring growing season than they have ever been since I can't go to the golf course.

John Misiaszek

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