County still has $500,000 in school funding
By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 13, 2014 1:50 AM
Wayne County commissioners say they would look favorably upon a proposal to use a more-than-$500,000 surplus of school funds to make supplemental appropriations to the Wayne County Board of Education.
But they also questioned whether or not they would be able to dictate how the supplement is used.
The funding discussion came in the opening hours of commissioners' nine-hour planning retreat held Tuesday at Walnut Creek Country Club.
Commissioner Steve Keen asked Interim County Manager George Wood if commissioners could designate how the money is used.
"(The school board has) to designate it," Wood said. "You just treat it as a supplement appropriation, and they determine where they want to spend it, which is true on the rest of (their funding)."
Commissioner Ray Mayo asked if the school board was restricted on the money's use.
It has to be for operating expenses, Wood said.
"So if they decided to put money into each classroom in Wayne County, they could do that?" Mayo said.
That is correct, Wood said.
Commissioner Ed Cromartie agreed that a funding "bump" was needed in the county's classrooms.
"That is why I am looking at getting this operating money out there because they need it," Wood said. "Even if our revenues aren't growing that strong, if this money is sitting there, earmarked for them, we need to get it in their hands is my opinion."
"Are you recommending no strings attached? Just let them make the decision?" Commissioner Joe Daughtery said.
"People have different philosophies on that," Wood said. "My philosophy is I don't think that we should be micro-managing the school board.
"I believe in giving them a certain amount of operating money, a certain amount of capital money, and let them make the decision on that."
Most counties write a check monthly to the schools for a twelfth of the money that is allocated to them annually, Wood said.
However, Wayne County requires set expenses and invoices, he said.
"So what has happened is that you have built up some fund balance," he said.
But the money still belongs to the school system, Wood said.
"The public schools have built up over a $500,000 fund balance in that current fund," he said. "My take on it is that you appropriated that money through the years for them. They just didn't spend it all. We all know that they need additional money, so what I am going to recommend is that over either a three- or four-year period that you give them what I am going to call a supplement appropriation.
"So if you divide by four, you would give them about $125,000 more each year until that's gone. The reason that I am saying that it is a supplement appropriation is that you want to make it crystal clear it is not ongoing. It is savings, and when it is gone, it is gone. Then we revert back to normal appropriations."
Another reason to spread the additional funding over several years is that the school board does not want to become overly dependent on it, he said.
"We could give them the full half million in one year," Wood said. "The problem is this is operating money. So if you get dependent on it, what do you do the next year? Whereas over a four-year period, it helps them now when they need the money, but they don't become over-dependent on it.
"Revenue should grow over that four-year period, and then if they have to cut back, it is not a dramatic amount."
Wood also reminded commissioners that the state pays for a set number of county schools' administrators and teachers based on a basic education formula.
"But anybody over that is paid for 100 percent with local money," Wood said. "So if the state comes along this year and gives a 1 percent increase to teachers across the board, the school board has to come up with the money to cover all of those teachers who are not covered in that formula.
"That is an inflationary increase for them (school board) that they need money to cover. This $125,000 would help with that."
Chairman Wayne Aycock said it would be interesting to see how many staff members the school system has above the number required by the education formula.
"I have just asked for that," Wood said. "I have asked for the (pay) supplements so that you will know that."