10/30/07 — Wayne Board of Education wants power to tax

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Wayne Board of Education wants power to tax

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 30, 2007 1:57 PM

Increasingly tired of having their "hands tied" financially, the school board voted Monday night to support a House bill that would authorize local boards of education to gain tax levying authority.

House Bill 1740 -- School Board Fiscal Accountability Act, has languished for nearly 10 years. It regained new life this past summer when the state school boards association took up the cause and encouraged districts to support it.

More than 90 percent of school systems in the U.S. are fiscally independent, another reason school board members said they favor the bill.

Generally, the currently law states, "local boards of education in North Carolina do not have tax levying authority. The few exceptions are several city school boards of education that have the power to levy taxes for supplemental funds."

Should the legislature approve the bill, eligible school boards could have the authority to levy taxes for public education as early as the 2008-09 fiscal year.

Of course, it must also be approved by the county commission. But that could work in the district's favor, since the two boards have long been at loggerheads over funding for facilities and other needs for the schools.

According to the proposed legislation, eligible school boards "would have the same authority as a board of county commissioners has for public education to levy and collect taxes on property situated within the local school administrative unit."

There would be parameters set around the amount, with local school boards unable to impose or collect taxes other than provided in the bill.

Allowing the school system to create its own revenue source appealed to the board.

"I think this resolution is well-intended and is needed," said school board member Dave Thomas. He said it has become apparent that sources like the one-cent sales tax and the lottery have not proved as lucrative, and additional means should be considered.

"We should not have to go to other boards to beg for funds," added board member Rick Pridgen. "They don't have to go through asking for an expansion budget like we did this year ... and not get a dime.

"Our hands are tied, and I hope that when our legislators (vote) they'll take that into account because their hands are not tied that way."

Board Chairwoman Shirley Sims said the proposed sales tax would be the only fair way to handle the problem.

"I just hope that somehow we will be able to do, as Mr. Pridgen and Mr. Thomas spoke of," she said. "We need that taxing authority badly."

Board member John P. Grantham said he was originally opposed to the idea, which has been bandied about for years.

"In light of the things we have tried to get funded, we sort of have our hands tied," he said. "I think if we had the authority, we could do like elected officials (and vote people out if you don't like the way they do things). It might simplify things."

While the bill would transfer fiscal accountability to local boards of education, it would not prohibit the county commission from providing additional financial support to the school district, something the board members said they hope could be a possibility.