12 May Pasquotank’s School Funding Still Uncertain (NC)May 12, 2010
By: Kristin Pitts and Reggie PonderSource: The Daily Advance
Pasquotank commissioners and Elizabeth City-Pasquotank school board members discussed the school district’s expense requests on Tuesday but reached no agreement on funding.
Board of Education Chairman Mark Small and board member Bill Luton said they walked out of the meeting with a better understanding of what will likely be a tough fiscal year for both the district and the county.
“We’re obviously in bad shape money-wise in the school and in the county, and we’ve worked pretty hard to try to get down to brass tacks,” Luton said. “We have asked really the minimum of what we need. We’re hoping that the state is going to just avoid any major additional cuts.”
The Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Pu blic Schools are seeking a little more than $11 million in local expense funding next year. In addition, the schools are seeking a little more than $5 million in capital outlay funding. The capital outlay budget calls for repairs to school facilities, including but not limited to portions of the roofs on Central Elementary School, Northeastern High School, H.L. Trigg Community School, and P.W. Moore Elementary School.
Small said he was concerned about getting funding for key renovation projects, like the roofs at NHS and CES, and the heating and air conditioning system at CES.
Pasquotank Commissioner Jeff Dixon said school officials did a good job of communicating the system’s capital needs — but commissioners are struggling with their own budget crisis even before the schools’ capital budget comes into play.
“We’ve got our own issues right now with just the basic budget,” Dixon said, pointing out the current estimate is that a 5.7-cent increase in the property tax rate would be needed to avoid eliminating positions in the county budget.
The commissioners have asked County Manager Randy Keaton to prepare multiple scenarios for closing the gap.
Dixon said borrowing money for the school capital needs could add 1.5 cents to the tax rate, which the commissioners aren’t ready to discuss until they resolve their broader budget dilemma.
“We realize that Northeastern High School needs a new roof,” Dixon said. “They need a complete renovation of their heating and cooling system. We know they have a need.”
Small reiterated what had been discussed during the district’s discussion of the proposed budget last month, saying that there were concerns that by continuing to put o ff key projects, the district could wind up costing itself more in the long run.
“The longer we put it off the worse perhaps it becomes,” Small said.
According to Small, commissioners were also concerned by the over-utilization of some schools, and the under-utilization of others. Federal law allows parents of students in schools that don’t meet Adequate Yearly Progress to send their child to another school. The influx of students in higher performance schools is a concern of commissioners, Small said.
Luton said commissioners also expressed interest in opening up school facilities for events and other uses.
“We have all these nice facilities. It doesn’t need to be something that’s under lock and key. There’s a balance between protecting something and keeping it completely off limits,” Luton said.
Luton said he would support a measure that would open up the facilities for greater use, and in turn stimulate the economy.
“I don’t think they want to see education suffer any more than we do, so it’s good to see that we’re in the same boat,” Luton said.
Although he said he felt the meeting went well, Small said the district has a tough job ahead of itself this year and in the years to come.
“We’re concerned that more and more is being asked of public schools from all corners. Everyone wants us to perform at a higher level,” Small said. “What we’re being asked to do would be compromised by reduced funding.”
Dixon said as the commissioners consider their options, one possibility could be holding a referendum on levying an additional one-quarter-cent sales tax in the county . One advantage of the sales tax would be that it could be set up to “sunset” once the school capital plan was taken care of, he said.