05/31/09 — Duplin school athletics could be on chopping block

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Duplin school athletics could be on chopping block

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 31, 2009 12:23 AM

If no changes are made to the Duplin County Board of Commissioner's 2009-10 public school funding plan, school officials say they will not be able to offer such extracurricular programs as sports and JROTC next year.

Currently the commissioners have allocated approximately $10.1 million to Duplin County Public Schools -- the same amount they gave last year after dipping into their fund balance in an attempt to appease the school board after it filed suit against the county (a suit that is still pending appeal).

However, that money, right now, is restricted to operational and capital funding categories -- ones that do not include athletics, JROTC programs, career and technical education supplies, assistant principals, coaching supplements, teacher supplements or teacher sign-on bonuses, school finance officer Jo Ann Hartley said.

"Those don't allow for anything instructional," she said. "If they do this, there will be no money for athletics, JROTC, assistant principals, career and technical education supplies."

The school board's only option, she continued, would be to use nearly all of its fund balance -- no state or federal funds are available.

"We don't have anything else," Ms. Hartley said. "And you don't want to pay recurring expenses with one-time money."

Exacerbating the school system's budget problems, she said, are the funding cuts being handed down by the state.

But, county Manager Mike Aldridge noted, not only were the commissioners' restrictions not as tight as they could have been, the county is not in a position to "cover all the state's shortfalls."

But, Ms. Hartley noted hopefully, "The commissioners have not decided anything. They're just bandying this about. It's all preliminary."

And while Aldridge said he "did not think it was the board's intention to cut anything that would be beneficial to students," commission Chairman Cary Turner said he would be surprised if the board changed its mind on the restrictions it has placed on the funding.

"This is based on their track record. In the past, we've given them money and they wouldn't use it for what they said they'd use it for," he said of the school board.

Among the examples he gave were concerns several years ago about the amount of money being paid out in administrative supplements and questions surrounding the funding of several teacher positions with local money.

It's an issue that school board member Chuck Farrior admitted has been a problem.

"I think it does stem from that," Farrior said. "There is a trust issue there that we need to overcome. But we can't let the children and the system lack. We can't undo what's been done. We have taken steps to reduce supplements, but we can't spend any more time on this supplement issue."

But, Turner said, it's more than just the supplement issue.

It's also a matter of the county commissioners deciding to not fund any more than they are required by statute to fund.

"We put that money only in what we're responsible for," he said -- primarily facilities and maintenance.

And he said he believes that if the school board were to look hard enough, that it could find other places in its budget to cut that would free up funding for the things it's now saying it can't afford -- although where those cuts might be, he admitted, he doesn't know.

"In my opinion it was by choice," he said. "They decided to choose these things because that what would put the most pressure on us. If they should be blaming anybody, they should blame the state.

"I hate that it's come to this. But I'm guessing that even if we don't give them what they're asking for and leave it as it is, they'll still have football games in the fall, they'll still have coaches."

He didn't speculate as to how that would happen, given the school administration's current position.

The commissioners will hold a public hearing on the budget at 6 p.m. Monday at the county Cooperative Extension office.