A large number of community members showed up for the meeting, many of them dressed in red shirts and not many wearing masks, to the scheduled public hearing on the Lincoln County FY2021 budget Monday evening. The red shirts were in support for the red for education movement which has rallied teachers together in protests across the nation as they demand lawmakers to invest more in schools and education.
Lincoln County Schools requested a total of $27,464,520 (this includes a local appropriation to Lincoln County charter schools) but will be receiving 5% less than what they received in FY20. Teachers, limited to those in classrooms in front of students, will receive a 2% supplemental increase, $21,946,968.
Funding to several outside agencies has been cut completely from the budget. Those agencies are Hesed House of Hope ($10,000), Eastern Lincoln Historical Society ($31,000) and Thunder Over Carolina ($10,000). Funding to the Lincoln County Historical Association was reduced to $41,000. There will be a phased reduction in funding in Communities in School, receiving $55,000 FY 21, $25,000 in FY 22 and $0 in FY23.
More than a dozen individuals signed up for the public comment session. First up to the podium was Lincoln County Schools superintendent Dr. Lory Morrow who urged the commissioners to “reconsider the drastic budget reduction” which consequences will be felt “in the classroom particularly in grades four through 12 as they may have to larger class sizes due to the elimination of additional teaching positions in the local budget.”
These drastic budget cuts, Morrow said, would endanger, potentially eliminate or reduce the high-quality support and instruction that have been in place that have made our students and district successful.
“Please show this community that education is still the number one priority by reconsidering the budget cut to the 20-21 school year,” she concluded.
Chris Rhyne, husband of Lincoln County Schools Board of Education member Heather Rhyne addressed the quarter cent sales tax referendum which was passed in 2018. Rhyne was chairman of a committee working to get this referendum passed.
“The number one objection we heard regarding the proposed quarter cent sales tax was that commissioners would use the school system and business committee to get this referendum passed. then reduce the school’s budget somewhere else,” he said. “When asking the county manager and county commissioners about this objection, the answer we received consistently was that they had no intention of ever taking the quarter cent tax revenue away from the schools or reducing the budget by that amount. Yet here we are, just two years later, having to work hard again to keep you from doing the thing we were told you had no intention of doing. Your current proposed budget decreases the school’s funding by more than the amount received from the quarter cent sales tax.”
Heather Rhyne spoke next saying that she was not speaking on behalf of the board of education but as a taxpayer asking for the commissioners to reconsider the budget, not for the amount previously requested but for what was given the district for the 2019-2020 school year.
“Lincoln County touts itself on being fiscally strong, conservative and prepared for unforeseen circumstances with a very large unassigned fund balance of just over $26 million dollars of our tax payor money,” she said. “How can we continue to tout ourselves as financially prepared for anything and yet cut the budget for our school system when counties around us are maintaining or increasing their school’s budgets?”
She asked the commissioners why they funded the school system last year with a dollar amount they couldn’t or aren’t willing to maintain? Was it poor planning on the county’s fault or was it that the county was hit with unforeseen circumstances – a pandemic?
“Isn’t this what the reserve fund is there for, unforeseen circumstances,” she asked.
Several more educators, past and present, the wife of a board of education member, Mark Mullen, and other community members requested that the commissioners reconsider the allocation to Lincoln County Schools and make education a priority.
Cathy Davis, who currently the chairperson of the Lincoln County Schools Board of Education and who may become a member of the board of commissioners after November’s elections who said she was there to support Morrow and students within the district saying that she hoped more money would come to the schools from the commissioners.
After explaining what the organization did for students, Amanda Moore, the executive director of Communities in Schools of Lincoln County asked the commissioners to reconsider their phasing out of the program over a three-year period. In addition, John Hall, the director of Hesed House of Hope requested that the commissioners not cut the program completely from the budget as planned.
After everyone had spoken at the public hearing, the commissioners defended their actions. After saying that the board of commissioners have to deal with complexities (in apparent response to Elaine Jenkin’s comments during the public hearing), but that the most complexity that the county and school system dealt with is the state government, starting with the Governor, Mitchem asked the Finance Director of Lincoln County, Deanna Rios to comment on the school budget.
She pointed out that $2.5 million from the fund balance was being used to balance the budget, then brought up a 5% increase asked for by the school system last year for a salary increase for all local paid positions.
“The schools did not give the 5% increase,” she said. “We asked what they did with it and were told it was used for current expenses, but they didn’t use it for what the county commissioners intended.”
Mitchem then began a rather heated discussion about a concern about the purported lack of paper and glue sticks in the school district came up in the discussion.
“I have a hard time understanding that given the amount of money we give the school system,” he said. “If anyone wants to call and talk to me, I’ll give them a little more of my opinion about the money getting into the classroom.”
County Commissioner Anita McCall reminded the teachers who were in the room that the board of education, which sees where the money that they (the commissioners) allocate to them gets disbursed, are elected individuals.
“If that money is not getting appropriated appropriately then that’s a problem,” she said. “Do you understand what I’m telling you? I know because I’ve talked to you all on the phone that you’re afraid to stand up. That you’re afraid you’ll lose your job and I get that. Here’s what you understand, we support you all. We made it so that those that touch the students get the money. That’s how we did it. We’re all about the money getting to you all.”
After a fifteen break, Morrow returned to the podium for an additional public comment session rebutting how the 5% increase was spent was due to operational costs, which could mean raises, benefit increases or other unexpected cuts which was how Morrow said she betrayed how the money was spent.
“I want everyone here in this room and particularly our audience to understand that promises made were promises kept,” she said. “Unfortunately, we seem to have some accounting misunderstandings between our two organizations and as leaders are continuing to work to clarify these misunderstandings.”
Mitchem that he wanted to bury the axe between the county commissioners and the school board.
Heather Rhyne, Associate Superintendent Dr. Aaron Allen and several others returned for additional public comment.
A video recording of the entire meeting will be available on the Lincoln County website in a few days.
- The board heard a second reading of Amendment to Ordinance #2010-4: An Ordinance Approving an Agreement Granting a Nonexclusive Construction and Demolition Debris Landfill Franchise to Lake Norman Landfill, Inc.
- The board approved a resolution to seek funding from NCDEQ State Revolving Funds and ASSDRA Grant for Pump Station 15.
- A resolution to seek funding from NCDEQ State Revolving Funds and ASSDRA Grant for a waterline along Saint James from Business Highway 16 to west crossing new Highway 16 was approved.
- Killian Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant Construction and Engineering contracts were approved.
- Don Chamblee provided a Public Works Utility Hydraulic Model update.
The board approved a Waterline Design contract from Airlie to Highway 73.