06/23/11 — Best chides schools for spending decisions

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Best chides schools for spending decisions

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 23, 2011 1:46 PM

Wayne County Commissioner Jack Best took aim at the county schools, his fellow commissioners and the local media during 20 minutes of commentary during the commission's Tuesday morning budget hearing.

Best accused the school board of using teacher supplement funds to pay a bonus for Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor, accused the local newspaper of not keeping a close enough eye on the school district's finances and criticized his fellow commissioners for not being willing to cut their own budget.

Best spoke for more than 20 minutes during the public hearing on the county budget.

He asked commission chairman J.D. Evans if he should remain at his seat or stand at the podium, but said people probably could hear him better from his seat, saying that he would be "making the rest of you mad."

Best said that about three years ago commissioners had talked about money being given to the schools.

"We discussed how our teachers' supplements should only go to classroom teachers -- the people who touch the children every day," he said. "Being as naive as I am, I thought the school board was doing something about what we discussed. Last week, there was a letter sent out by the superintendent of the school board asking them to continue to give to him his $6,500 per year bonus out of teacher supplements. And him making over $170,000 -- do you think he should take the money from the teachers?

"How many more staffers are taking money from the teachers' pot that the county is sending over to give to the teachers -- the classroom teachers?"

Asked after the meeting for a copy of the letter, Best said he did not have it and suggested contacting school board members.

He said during the meeting that people talk about state money problems and teachers having to use their own money to purchase supplies.

Best said he does not care what Taylor or his staff make and that they probably do a good job.

"But don't take it out of the teachers' pay," he said. "We have trouble hiring good teachers. No wonder we have trouble keeping good teachers. No wonder we can't get men teachers to come in and be mentors to our children, because they can't make a living."

Best said the letter goes on to say that Taylor wants a one-year extension on a four-year contract.

However, he said that if Taylor's job was based on students' performance, that "he'd been gone a long time ago."

Best said that when Taylor and his staff have 80 percent of the graduates go to Wayne Community College and don't have to take remedial courses that he would "be the first to sign off" on Taylor's bonus.

"We send almost $19 million to the schools," he said. "We don't tell them how to spend it, but we have guidelines ... but they tell me that it not necessary how the school board spends. Shame on us for not checking behind them. Shame on these commissioners, including myself."

"Personally I am not going to vote for this budget until I get a breakdown of how the schools are spending the $19 million," he said.

Best then took the newspaper to task.

"Where is the newspaper?" he said. "Why aren't they over there reporting on all of this? I thought you were supposed to be our watchdog. Are you sleeping with the enemy? They do not go to committee meetings.

"They tell me I whisper at these meetings so I can't complain too much, but go to the committee meetings -- that is where the real decisions are made at the schools. They are not made at the school board anymore. They are made at the committees.

"Another thing, why is the school board still paying someone put on leave of absence for two years?" Best said, although he did not name the person. "I don't understand that. Why are they taking teachers who have not done a good job and putting them in a position so that they can retire in two years at 30 years? All it is doing is taking money from taxpayers.

"If they are not doing their job, fire them and put another in there."

Best then turned his attention to the county's fire districts, some of whom have asked for increases in their fire tax.

He said that he had a great respect for firefighters, but if the county is going to be revenue neutral then the fire departments should be, too.

Later, during the public comment portion of the meeting, Wayne Aycock of the Nahunta Fire Department said his department had not asked for a tax increase as had been reported in the News-Argus. Aycock said he andothers did not know about the request until they read about it in the newspaper. However, after the meeting, county officials provided a copy of the form the fire departments use for fire district taxes. It showed that the revenue neutral rate for Nahunta would be 63.4 cents but that the department asked for a 70-cent rate. The form was signed by three fire commissioners and the fire department board chairman.

Best said that during last week's budget work session that he had suggested the board could reduce its own budget by $25,000. He asked how could the board cut programs if the board wasn't willing to cut its own spending.

He said that while the TV cameras were on and people were in the audience that he thought the majority of the board had agreed to give up 10 percent of the board's budget.

"It wasn't 20 minutes after the meeting that some of our board members started in on (County Manager) Mr. (Lee) Smith 'You can't cut our salaries. You can't cut our expenses. You can't cut our hospital insurance."

Best said commissioners don't make a lot of money and that he didn't know how much of his own money he spent while serving. There is no reason for people to have to do that in order to serve, he said. But at the same time it is a public service job and not one to supplement their retirement, he said.

It is not an easy job, but how can commissioners gain the respect of their employees and citizens if they (commissioners) are treated differently, he said.

If commissioners had the same insurance as other county employees, it would save almost $25,000, he said.