10/06/09 — Duplin commissioners refuse to grant funding to schools

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Duplin commissioners refuse to grant funding to schools

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on October 6, 2009 1:46 PM

The Duplin County Board of Education will not be allowed to use $727,000 in local funding to pay some public school workers, the Duplin County Board of Commissioners decided Monday.

The Board of Education does not have enough money to pay all of the county's school custodians and clerical staff due to state budget cuts, said Chief Finance Officer Joann Hartley.

Mrs. Hartley asked commissioners to allow the school board to transfer $727,000 in capital reserve to make up for the funding loss. The request drew pointed words from Commissioner David Fussell.

"Have you sued the state? What have you done to protest this state funding cut?" he asked, referring to the lawsuit the Duplin County Board of Education filed last year against the commissioners.

The lawsuit was both "spitting in the county's face and a slap," Fussell said. "Until that lawsuit is dropped, I will not vote on any budget changes."

Commissioner Reginald Wells disagreed with Fussell's words.

"We're not ever going to move the school system forward until we get rid of this pettiness," he said.

Board chairman Cary Turner mentioned worries about how a potential 16-cent property tax increase, which would be necessary to pay the $4.8 million awarded to the school board, could affect Duplin County. Business owners have already told him they will not stay in Duplin if the tax increase happens, Turner said.

Commissioner Zettie Williams raised concerns about the approach the board took toward the issue.

"I don't think we're being fair with the Board of Education," she said.

The money is part of the current expense allocation, not a request for additional funding, Mrs. Hartley said.

The vote ended in a 3-3 stalemate. Mrs. Hartley reported that she will take the decision back to the school board, which meets tonight.

The board will likely have to "cut janitors or cut something else," she said.

In other business, Marcia Wright, board chairman of nonprofit company Eastern Carolina Services, spoke to commissioners about their decision to place the Duplin County Women, Infants and Children nutrition program under the auspices of the county health department. Eastern Carolina Services has run the WIC program for nearly 30 years.

Mrs. Wright was concerned that that state was reportedly directing the action, and that the board did not have a full compliment of members for the vote.

"I have not been able to find any evidence that there is any such requirement or request," she said.

And Wells was not present at the vote, Mrs. Wright pointed out.

Commissioners were told at their meeting last month that the state required them to take action on the issue, or else management of the WIC program would be placed out for bids. But there would be an "almost slim to none" chance of another county's health department coming in to take over running the program, Mrs. Wright said.

The county has not had to put any money into running the WIC program while it was operated by Eastern Carolina Services. That will change once the county health department is running it, she said.

The situation is a potential Pandora's box, Wells said.

"Out of one side of our mouth we're saying we have too many employees, then we go and take on more folk," he said.

Wells made a motion for the board to reconsider the action, but the vote died 3-3.