04/18/06 — Citizens tell Duplin to spend more on schools

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Citizens tell Duplin to spend more on schools

By Turner Walston
Published in News on April 18, 2006 1:48 PM

KENANSVILLE -- More than 250 teachers, parents and school administrators filled the auditorium at Duplin Commons on Monday afternoon to let county commissioners know they don't believe the county is spending enough money on education.

The afternoon session of the county Board of Commissioners' meeting was moved to the auditorium to accommodate the crowd.

Administrators and school board members joined school superintendent Dr. Wiley Doby in asking commissioners to increase funding for the school system. The commissioners are currently involved in developing a budget for 2006-2007.

"Teachers are having to purchase school supplies out of their pockets in order to teach their students. This is not right," said Grey Morgan, director of the county's Economic Development Commission.

Morgan challenged the commissioners to "Lead, and do what's right for education in this county."

Delilah Gomes said that teacher expectations were higher, and salaries should reflect that.

"If it means that taxes need to be raised, then let's do it," she said.

Doby said 9 percent of the Duplin school system's budget comes from local tax money. The state average is 24.5 percent, he said.

"We cannot sustain this trend," Doby said. "We have to begin to reverse that spiral."

Doby said the tighter budget would hamper the availability of services in the schools

"We run the risk of experiencing a cutback in a number of different areas," he said.

"We respect the job and the challenges that you have in front of you," Doby told commissioners, but he challenged them to start working toward bringing Duplin's local spending up to the state average.

"These folks here believe that education is important," school board member Reginald Kenan said, gesturing to the crowd in attendance. Kenan said he does not believe Duplin taxpayers would mind a slight tax increase, ". . . as long as they know that you're using the money for the children of this county."

"It doesn't matter whether you get elected again or not," Kenan told commissioners. "What's important is that you do what's right."

"Talk is cheap. Let's get to work."

Commissioner Chairman Zettie Williams polled attendees on whether they would be willing to have taxes raised five cents for education. Nearly every hand in the auditorium went up. Two people raised their hands when Mrs. Williams asked who would not support a tax increase.

"It's incumbent upon the six of us to step up," said Commissioner Reginald Wells. "We need to step up now, in the present, and take this thing forward," he said.

"We're either going to educate them now, or incarcerate them later," he said. "I'm ready today to set the tone for this county."

Wells then asked the five other commissioners to address attendees.

"At some point, we're going to have to dive in. I'm willing to do what's right," said Commissioner L.S. Guy, a former school superintendent.

"I do think we need to do more," said Commissioner Larry Howard.

Commissioner Arliss Albertson said a penny increase in the tax rate equals about $250,000. "We better get busy. There's lots of work we've got to do," Albertson said.

Commissioner David Fussell said he had made 16 motions since January that would have saved millions of dollars for the county. Ten of those motions were not seconded, he said, and six were seconded by Mrs. Williams, but ultimately defeated.

"There are a lot of needs in this county that we should fund," Fussell said. "We have a limited amount of tax base."

Fussell said taxes in Duplin County are already 14 percent higher than average in North Carolina.

"Throwing money at a problem is not the issue," Fussell said. The county can improve schools without raising taxes by prioritizing spending, he said.

Wells asked Fussell to suggest what the board should do, but Mrs. Williams cut off a potential argument.

"Your request was that every board member speak," she told Wells. "They have spoken."

Commissioners will hold another budget session Friday at 9 a.m.