01/08/07 — Commissioners, school board discuss use of $1M extra funds

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Commissioners, school board discuss use of $1M extra funds

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on January 8, 2007 1:53 PM

When the Duplin County Board of Commissioners gave the county school system one million unrestricted dollars out of its fund balance in October, it did so in response to superintendent Dr. Wiley Doby's plea for help in meeting several areas of critical need.

In his presentation on Oct. 16, Doby explained that the school system needed help upgrading its security equipment, including cameras, walkie-talkies and intercoms, cleaning up its facilities and increasing supplements for school personnel to the state average.

According to the minutes, however, the commissioners did not include any stipulations as to how the county Board of Education could spend the new funds.

So, at the school board's Nov. 28 meeting, members voted to split up the $1 million two ways -- $774,895 for teacher and staff supplements and $225,105 for facility facelifts. Another $1.5 million was later given by the county commissioners to the school board from a capital reserve fund to help meet the security needs.

And that seemed to be the end of the matter -- until several weeks later when rumors of inequities in the staff supplements began circulating through Duplin County.

Supplements are the amount each county pays above the mandated state salary scale.

For teachers, the state average is $2,967. Before the budget increase, Duplin teachers were receiving $2,374. Principals were receiving $3,333, compared to the state average of $9,080. And assistant principals were receiving $2,200, compared to the state average of $5,454.

Doby also hoped to raise the supplements of the classified staff from $300 to $500.

More than 51 percent of the $775,000 went to the teachers, chief financial officer Carolyn Olivarez said, and much of the other 49 percent went to the classified staff and school-based administrators.

Supplement increases for central office staff and directors -- many of whom, associate superintendent of human resources and support services Dr. Candace Turk said, didn't get pay raises when they changed jobs -- are based on those for high school principals.

"(The increase) brought everybody up to state average. The only way we can recruit people is with this extra funding. It's the only way you can be competitive," Ms. Turk said. "And in many counties, classified staff don't get a supplement."

The only people not receiving a supplement are those who are not full-time (30 hours a week) school employees.

"I think the supplements and the increases were to promote people to stay and work full-time," she added.

But on Tuesday, the commissioners called the school board and Doby onto the carpet, wanting to know how exactly their $1 million was being spent.

Doby made only a cursory statement, thanking the commissioners for the money and referring them to a letter he sent to county Manager Mike Aldridge explaining the basic breakdown of how the money was spent. He then excused himself so he could return to the schools for the first day of classes after Christmas vacation.

Board chairwoman Emily Manning and vice chairman Reginald Kenan stayed to answer questions and discuss the matter with the commissioners.

They did not, however, discuss specific employees and the commissioners only voiced their opposition to the fact that administrators received supplement increases.

Several thought more money should have gone to the teachers, while others thought more should have gone to facilities.

Commission chairman David Fussell said he misunderstood Doby during his initial presentation and thought that only teachers would be receiving the supplement increases.

"I never would have voted for administrative supplements," he said.

Commissioner Zettie Williams -- the former chairwoman who was absent the day the $1 million allocation was voted on -- said it was her understanding that the school system's main needs were the deteriorating facilities.

"I'm in favor of supplements, but I'm also in favor of moderation, too," she said. "To me, the Board of Education is not making a good, wise decision if they're putting supplements over facility needs. Teachers are fine, but if they don't have a classroom ..."

However, Mrs. Manning said, they have never downplayed the school system's critical facility needs, but they realized that it would take a lot more than several hundred thousand dollars to do any significant renovations or expansions.

During his initial presentation, Doby stressed that this money would only be used for a facelift -- powerwashing, painting and small repairs.

"We have time and time again come before the board asking for facilities dollars to build new classrooms," Mrs. Manning said. "Facilities are needed desperately, but we also have to have teachers to go into those facilities."

What angered the school board, she continued, was the way the commissioners were scolding them -- as if they were irresponsible children.

"I ask that you give us the respect that we deserve as an elected board," she said. "It feels to me this board does not trust the Board of Education to deal with matters of funding in an honest and thoughtful way. We need the opportunity to spend those dollars in the way we deem appropriate by looking at our test scores, our facilities and our needs."

She added that she did not have a problem communicating with the commissioners about how the money was spent, but that she did not feel they needed to answer about every single line item.

"I don't have a problem with this board and the Board of Education communicating. I think that's the way to handle things," Mrs. Manning said. "What I have problem with is micromanaging and I get the feeling the county commissioners sometimes want to micromanage by holding onto the (purse) strings."

And such arguments, Kenan added, are not helping the county.

"We asked the county to give us the discretion to spend the money in a wise way. We all have to gel together and trust each other to do our jobs. It's time to stop this bickering amongst ourselves," he said. "It's gone on long enough, and it's hurting the county. We need to set aside our personal agendas and do what's right for this county."

In the end, the commissioners did apologize to Mrs. Manning and Kenan for the apparent scolding and decided it was their fault for giving the school board such a large unrestricted amount.

"If we are to earmark the money, we should do that up front and not come back and second guess," commissioner L.S. Guy said.

Still, Fussell did request that the county and the school finance officers sit down and go over the $1 million line by line -- adding that in the future, such allocations are not likely to be made.

"I doubt if you're going to see any more unrestricted funds given to the Board of Education," he said.