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.