We’ve gotten accustomed over the last several years to a fair amount of impassioned pleading and doomsday forecasting centered around the Moore County Board of Education’s budget request for the upcoming school year.

Someone was always expressing great angst that needs were not being suitably addressed in the budget. Not this year.

Although the board is embarrassingly cleaved by practical and ideological differences, the vote was unanimous for sending a $32.5 million local budget request to the Board of Commissioners.

But do not mistake this year’s relative fiscal harmony as a detente or “peace in our time” on the board. The real budget war, looming ominously on the horizon like the newest Marvel movie menace, is coming next year.

Key to this year’s unanimous support among the regularly divided board was agreement that a line-by-line examination and reconstruction of the 2022-23 budget would begin later this year.

Veiled Implications

The newest board members, David Hensley, Bob Levy and Philip Holmes, have said they want to know “what’s in the budget.” Although Hensley sits on the board’s budget subcommittee, he has said several times he doesn’t know what’s in it.

While he might not have the full cost implications of canned vs. fresh peaches in the West End Elementary cafeteria or the use of copier paper at Union Pines High, it strains credulity that he and other board members don’t know the budget basics.

Unstated — but highly implied — is that the overall schools budget is rife with wrong spending priorities and ill-advised costs. The three, running as a slate in last year’s elections, made the argument repeatedly that they would impose business-minded spending discipline on the district.

Again, the implication is that the district has not been doing that — that the budget is crammed with salary bloat while schools go without basic supplies. This persists despite the annual fiscal audits that state and federal law require of all school districts. Also, dense budget documents called “approved financials” exist on the district’s website for all to see and contain detailed pages of all money spent and received.

But those facts don’t appear to interest Hensley, Levy and Holmes, assuming they bothered to look. They want a full budget “gotcha!” or, in other words, an undertaking of the most micro of micromanaging. They have axes to grind, and they’re warming up the millstone.

The Battle Ahead

At the heart of Hensley’s request for a line-item review is that he can squeeze operations enough to wring out money to fund backlogged repairs and upgrades to buildings.

“The budget ignores the elephant in the room, and the elephant in the room is the $110 to $130 million in unfunded capital repairs and maintenance,” said Hensley. “I believe that with the new school board we have a genuine chance to work with the county commissioners to fund the repairs, but we have to earn their trust and we have to present an honest plan that they can rely on.”

Honest? Prior budgets weren’t? In truth, school districts do not have great leeway in how they spend their money. State and federal funds — the largest portions — must be spent how the state and Uncle Sam say. So that leaves the $32 million local allocation to fight over. And most of that goes to salaries and expenses the state once covered.

In reality, school boards don’t control their own budgets. That relies on the county commissioners, who have final say. Hensley, Levy and Holmes say the district has neglected maintenance and upkeep for years. But in reality, that blame lies with the commissioners, who, until a few years ago, did not regularly invest in such upkeep.

But the deal has been made and the Marvel movie menace is waiting in the wings. We are all in store later this year for a budget battle royale.

(8) comments

Peyton Cook

The budget should be audited. I believe that that both the County School Office and the schools are over staffed.

Robert Levy

The Pilot does not care how much people are taxed. This County already spends about 50% of your sales tax and property tax for operation and capital investment in the public schools. Yet The Pilot is blames the County Commissioners for a $120 million backlog of school repairs. We had almost a decade of cutting ribbons rather than investing in our roofs, our air conditioners and our failing water pipes. The Pilot wants no accountability and demonizes anyone who asks questions about how money is spent. The closer we get to the waste which The Pilot supports, the angrier The Pilot gets.

For instance, we conservatives on the School Board are concerned that there appears to be excessive spending on advertising and inadequate spending on the purchase of new library books.

The Pilot does not care. They believe that taxpayers are a bottomless pit. They do not care that schools are funded by property taxes which, in turn, are paid by many older people on fixed incomes. They do not care that people loose their homes when excessive property taxes are charged. They just want to spend more and more money without any questioning or accountability.

The Pilot should be ashamed of this “ hit piece”

The Pilot should apologize for its attempt to smear those who are working to make sure that each tax dollar is spent wisely.

ken leary

You obviously missed the point of this article Bob. There is no indication that the Pilot "does not care" about spending, that they believe "that taxpayers are a bottomless pit" or that they "do not care that people loose (sic) their homes." Complaining about the tax burden to Moore County citizens is just a fundamentalist conservative trope. What the Pilot is suggesting here is that you three new members of the school board are a divisive bunch, muck rakers, whose purpose appears to be a narcissistic need to correct perceived past incompetence by elected school boards.

Robert Levy

Is correcting past incompetence narcissistic or is it exactly what the voters demand.? The position of Pilot is to ignore that past incompetence and cover it over with tax increases on old people trying to avoid being taxed out of their homes. We will continue to correct that past incompetence which was cheered on year after year by The Pilot and its allies. They conceive of the taxpayer as a vessel from which government may extract a bottomless pile of cash.

ken leary

I stand corrected Bob. It is imperative that you three amigos step into the breach and reestablish trust, integrity, and propriety to a fiscal policy long undermined by scandalously incompetent past, and (I assume?) present board members. And when you do finally establish competence in the economic sphere, get started on the educational curriculum. You amigos undoubtedly have excellent ideas for eliminating teacher incompetence.

As you are consumed with concern for the poor taxpayer, would you consider putting the corporate income tax rate back up to six percent from the current, recently reduced rate, of three percent? My understanding is that that money pays educators and would help to mitigate “salaries and expenses the state once covered." Unfortunately, the problem with conservatives, whether secular democrats, or fundamentalist republicans, is that they don't do anything until they are forced too, or there is an economic advantage for them. A word of advice Bob. The conservative/liberal, tortoise/hare race has rules. Conservatives (secular or fundamentalist) since the FDR New Deal, have quietly, efficiently, and mercilessly chipped away at any effort to advantage anyone other than themselves. The key word here is "quietly."

Roy Ross

The budget should be scrutinized to the last penny not rubber stamped and forwarded unchecked and individual input untested. If the editors think that challenging input is divisive and unprofitable just because it's government they dwell in la-la land. The biggest crooks in the world are bureaucrats and politicians and there has been a total lack of restraint in government spending at every level. Dig deep and hard you divisive new board members...that's why you were elected.

ken leary

How do you feel about the military budget Roy?

Kent Misegades

Anyone who has been given oversight of government budgets as an outsider knows how difficult it can be to get the same level of granularity and honesty that is usual in the private sector. Bureaucrats have made a science out of hiding details on head count, external contracts, massive fraud in the school lunch programs, unfilled but budgeted positions held open to protect actual employees, and the growth in non-teaching employees in government schools. Look at the giant school bus scandal in Wake County from a few years ago for a rare case where good oversight and real investigative journalism (anyone remember that?) uncovered cronyism. Auditors typically only review the procedures used in accounting, not what is done with the money, so a good audit report is not sufficient. What is not mentioned in this article is the inevitable cuts coming due to a steep decline in MCS enrollment as parents flee the government schools for better options.

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