Stokes County Commissioners voted Monday night to assist in funding the four percent school employees supplement recently threatened due to this year’s scant budget.
“As you know last year the board of education and county commissioners worked on a budget and the commissioners allocated about $782,357 less than requested,” said Superintendent Dr. Brad Rice. “The board and central office has made many cuts since that time and looked at not only budget projections, but last year’s actual expenses to try and reduce that number as much as possible. We were able to cut about $508,479.”
The staggering shortfall still left the board with a $273,878 deficit. On behalf of the board, Rice requested an additional $228,877 which would include funding for resource officers at last year’s staffing level and the four percent school employees supplement.
Longtime commissioner Ernest Lankford explained the reasoning behind the budget woes.
“We not only had to cut money from the school system but every department in the county. We have nine different departments and we have to look at the big picture,” he said.
Lankford proposed funding $90,938 of the requested $228,877 leaving the school board to bear the weight of the remaining costs out of their fund balance.
“I was on the school board, I know how important that (supplement) is. I would recommend doing it for the county’s sake,” he said.
Lankford advised utilizing the $28,000 resource officer matching grant to keep the current officers employed.
The proposal would leave a meager $138,062 in the fund balance to oversee 19 schools throughout the calendar school year.
“I think it’s appropriate for some of the things you may need prior to our next budget cycle,” Lankford said. “I’m also saying that if you have a large breakdown this board is not going to turn you away. The school board and the commissioners are serving the same people. The school board is focused on educating the children and we’re focused on trying to provide the money.”
Lankford addressed the topic of raising taxes, an issue that arose in public comments earlier in the evening.
“As you know the tax structure has already been set for this year, but we have put a .25 sales and use tax on the referendum for November. I’ve heard a lot of people say tonight and other times, ‘We don’t mind paying extra taxes.’ This gives you an opportunity to vote for this bond referendum and that could bring in a revenue of an estimated $500,000.”
Rice stated Schools Finance Director Lannette Moore, spoke with auditors on Monday and any fund balance around the $138,000 mark would generate a warning letter declaring schools were in a difficult situation and couldn’t continue operating at the current pace.
Commissioner Jimmy Walker asked the superintendent his thoughts on Lankford’s proposal. Rice deferred the question to Moore.
“It makes me nervous and I know it’s going to make this board a little uneasy,” she said. “I know this board would like to have the full amount or anymore that you’d be willing to add. We’ve had a lot of concerns from our employees about the supplement.”
Commissioner Ronda Jones said she wasn’t comfortable taking so much money from the school board fund balance.
“They’ve gone back and refigured and they’re asking for a little over $200,000 for essentials. By receiving letters, I don’t think it makes the school system look good and I don’t think it makes the county look good. We’re just postponing the inevitable,” she said. “I just don’t know why we are trying to nickel and dime this thing to death. When they’ve already cut out almost $500,000 from what their original request was. I think they’ve been reasonable.”
Jones recognized the commissioners would come to the school board’s defense when needed.
“In the grand scheme of things I think we need to make their fund balance at least to the point where the formula matches what the state requires.”
Lankford conceded budgets cuts this year were deeper than anyone wanted.
“We took $2.3 million dollars out of our fund balance to make it happen,” he said. “We definitely have and will continue, I will as long as I’m on this board, to support the school system. I think we have one of the best school systems in the state. Next year will be a better year; that’s my opinion.”
Board of Commissioners Chair Leon Inman suggested the board move the discussion to action agenda instead of waiting to vote at the next scheduled meeting.
Addressing the school board he said, “You guys are getting ready to start school. You’ve got to tell teachers something. If we might lose teachers, this needs to get on the action agenda. To me it rises to the emergency situation. Tell the teachers that you are keeping your supplement.”
Amanda Dodson can be reached at 336-813-2426 or on Twitter at AmandaTDodson.