06/02/06 — School facilities funding still not on list

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School facilities funding still not on list

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on June 2, 2006 1:49 PM

Wayne County Manager Lee Smith's recommended budget includes proposals for everything from forest-fire control to sewage costs, but it is still missing one valuable piece of information -- the amount of money the county will spend on public schools in 2006-07.

Smith and the county Board of Commissioners discussed education funding during a budget work session Thursday morning. The commissioners have a month to approve a budget before the July 1 deadline passes.

"We have 30 days before this goes into effect. We need to get our hands around this problem," Commissioner Andy Anderson said.

Smith said he and Wayne Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor met last week to discuss numbers for the upcoming year. He said that Taylor originally had asked for a $5.5 million increase over this year's allocation, but said he could maintain operations with a $1.2 million increase.

Smith's recommended budget calls for the county to allocate $831,000 over this year, while school officials would seek savings suggested by a consulting firm hired to provide a detailed analysis of the county's and the schools' finances and facility needs.

Evergreen Solutions submitted its findings last month. The report suggested several methods by which the school board could save millions of dollars over the next few years.

"Some of Evergreen's recommendations they can do, and there are some that they can't, but we'll have to continue to work on it," Smith said.

Both boards should meet again soon to discuss the budget, Smith said.

Commissioner Efton Sager said the commissioners recognize the need for facility improvements at schools across the county, but that the commissioners need to keep a large enough reserve to make borrowing easier. When the time comes to borrow money to build new schools, the county has to have enough money on hand to get a good interest rate, he said.

"I made the mistake in 2001 to use $5 million out of our fund balance to spend on schools. I have a new perspective on that. We need our fund balance so that we can build schools," Sager said.

Since then, the county has rebuilt its fund balance to 21 percent of the total county budget in preparation of debt service for county and school capital projects, Smith said.

Smith's proposed budget contains a 6.5-percent supplement for teachers, which would cost the county more than $2 million.

Although he admitted his opinion likely would not be popular, Anderson suggested the county not include the supplement in the budget.

"Why do we need to have a supplement, when we could use (the money) for real educational needs?" Anderson said.

Commissioner John Bell said many teachers would find work elsewhere if they do not receive the supplement.

"If we cut our supplements, Johnston County won't cut theirs. They might even increase theirs, and we won't have any teachers," Bell said.