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School Board member Silver, commissioners clash over funding

 

ELIZABETH HEFFNER

Staff Writer

 

A proposed wish-list from the Lincoln County School Board led to a heated discussion at the May 5 county commissioner meeting.

School Board member Bob Silver presented the proposal to county commissioners. Silver currently serves as the chairman for Lincoln County School Board’s Budget and Finance Committee.

The Times-News previously reported that at the school board and county commissioners’ joint meeting in January, commissioners asked board members to create a wish list of items they felt would be necessary for the upcoming school year.

“I regret to report that the proposed county budget allocation for Lincoln County Schools for 2014-2015 is inadequate and irresponsible,” Silver said. “Two years ago, it was stipulated by the county manager that the school’s mandatory utility costs would be supplied by the county. In 2012 and in 2013, $139,000 per year was allotted to help defray additional costs charged to the School Board for utilities….this year, nothing has been allocated. The projected shortage for the 2013-2014 utility cost is nearly $210,000. Even without the aforementioned $139,000, Lincoln County Schools will still incur a $71,000 shortfall. This is money that will come out of teacher positions, teacher and administrative supplements and instructional supplies for our students.

According to Silver, outside of the true-up expense, the county allocated $342,000, which was used for teacher positions, technology and well-deserved teacher supplements.

Silver told commissioners that the school board wants to give teachers a half percent local supplement salary increase.

“Currently, Lincoln County Schools’ average supplement is $2,928; compared with the state average of $3,553, it’s a $625 difference, or 18 percent,” he said. “Of the teachers who left the ranks of Lincoln County Schools last year, 25 percent of them went to neighboring counties and states for higher pay scales. We are losing some of our best educational leaders and mentors.”

Silver also asked for supplement increases for principals, who have not had a pay increase since the 2005-2006 school year, funds for technology improvements, as well as funds for instructional supplies, which he said many teachers are providing out-of-pocket. The school board is also requesting funds to pay for four first grade teacher assistants’ salaries.

“This is a crucial component for our students to academically maintain a competitive edge in our state,” Silver said. “In conclusion, we need $808,700, not $259,553.”

However, Silver’s remarks comparing Lincoln with surrounding counties seemed to upset commissioners Carl Robinson and Alex Patton the most.

“Education needs to be a priority in Lincoln County,” Silver said. “Looking at other area counties, Mecklenberg County allocated 49 percet of their local budget towards education. Catawba County is 36 percent, Cleveland County 36.2 percent…and Iredell County allocates 44 percent of their local budget towards education. The national average for local budgets is 43 percent. Lincoln County is around 19 percent. You stated that the total percentage is 34 percent. This is grossly misleading. Understand that the bond money appropriated for facilities cannot be used for operating expense budgetary items; therefore, a true assessment of the actual budget allotment for operations is 19 percent.”

Patton disagreed with Silver’s claim, stating that the 34 percent is accurate because bond monies are part of the total county budget.

“Now, a lot of that is going towards schools that we have to build, because they weren’t built fast enough in years past,” he said. “But it still goes towards education. The public isn’t game for a tax increase…you’re calling us irresponsible for not giving you 100 percent of what you want.

“The total dollars coming from Lincoln County has not went down in the last five years,” Patton added Now, can you say that for the state of North Carolina? So, it’s impossible for Lincoln County to make up $6.9 million that the state took. There’s not a person up here that’s not pro-education. I’m a product of Lincoln County Schools, and I want our schools to be the best they can be. But Lincoln County cannot continue to make up what the state decides not to pay.”

Robinson said he felt Silver was yelling at the commissioners.

“We’re doing everything we can possibly do to support the schools for the last three years that we’ve gone through the economy crisis,” he said. “We need to work together. I understand your frustration, but we’re frustrated too.”

One of the debating points centered on the “true up” of money to meet utility bills. According to Assistant County Manager Martha Lide, the schools had received the additional money that was necessary to cover rising utility costs a few years ago, but do not appear likely to get additional funding this year to cover the amounts they had to spend.

“At this point, we have not included the $139,000 in their base, which we normally add money to,” Lide explained. “We’re at the end of the (fiscal) year now, so we can look and see if we have any additional revenue to share with them.”

Patton said the county commissioners would take Silver’s presentation into account during their upcoming budget discussions.

 

 

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