There was likely a sigh of relief from the Stokes County Board of Education Monday night when news came county commissioners would assist in funding the four percent school employees supplement. But the reality is it comes at a cost. While the county commissioners are generously giving $90,938, the school board is pulling a hefty portion from their fund balance which leaves them with a concerning $138,062 to operate 19 schools throughout the calendar year.
School Board Chair Sonya Cox said she was very uneasy starting the school year with a fund balance lower than it’s ever been during her tenure.
“There are many unknowns, we’ve never been in a predicament quite like this,” she said.
Cox said she appreciated the commissioners contributions, especially to the capital and special appropriations, but felt like their budget was being nitpicked.
“We presented what we thought was a very fair and reasonable budget to begin with. It’s very disheartening to have to beg for funding each time a need arises and for our employees to be made to feel inconsequential.”
Though the process has been frustrating Cox hopes school employees realize the board is willing to fight for them.
“We have the hardest working, most dedicated employees in the state. We value the job they do and the investment they are making in our students. Under no circumstances will we ask them to do it for less,” she said. “We’ll continue to go back as many times as needed, not only to our county for funding, but to the state of North Carolina as well.”
Cox feels like the state, over a period of time, has shirked their responsibilities to the local government.
“This has been a gradual shift over the last couple of decades as our state has put more funding into vouchers and charter schools and not given the rural counties the amount of lottery money initially promised. Now, it’s beginning to catch up and neither our fund balance nor the counties can continue in this fashion. It’s my hope that we can join with our county commissioners to search for answers and find ways to hold the state more accountable.”
For now, the board is dealing with the issue at hand. They are responsible for 19 schools, many of which are showing signs of deterioration.
“Honestly, it’s very disconcerting to be starting the school year with a fund balance this critically low. There are many unknowns when it comes to trying to operate a school system,” Cox said. “Any emergency can deplete that fund balance. We will probably be on pins and needles all year. I’m sure our finance director, Ms. Moore has already had many sleepless nights trying to anticipate what may happen. We also have been warned by our auditors that this amount drops us far below what they and the state recommend to keep on hand.”
Cox added, “We, as well as the county commissioners are cognizant of the danger of using fund balance to pay for things that are yearly reoccurring costs. This is definitely uncharted territory.”
Amanda Dodson can be reached at 336-813-2426 or on Twitter at AmandaTDodson.