I have serious concerns about a resolution that is being considered by the New Hanover County Commissioners. The resolution requests that the local legislative delegation draft a bill entitled: Act to Modify the School Budget and Fiscal Control Act. This act would add the following language to the current legislation: The Board of County Commissioners may make specific appropriations that the Board of Education shall spend only for the expressly designated purpose set forth by the County Commissioners. A change of this nature is designed to undermine the elected school board and has potential to negate the will of county voters.
In a time of severe budget cuts by the state, an act such as this would hamper our ability to respond effectively. Much of the money that we are allocated is categorical and cannot be spent outside of a narrow set of parameters. The operational dollars that the county allocates have the least restrictions of any dollars that we receive. In the past, we have used these dollars to pay teacher supplements, add teachers above the state allotment and provide special education services over the state set minimums. If that flexibility is eliminated, then the commissioners could effectively negate school board action. They could deny funding for services such as transportation to pre-k or year-round schools. Both of which are supported in part with county funds.
This bill would require us to request permission from the County Commissioners to move any amount of funds between purpose codes. An example would be that if we had extra money in instructional supplies, we would have to come back to the Commissioners to move that money to help pay for custodial supplies. It is a level of micro-management that is unacceptable and one that has the potential to politicize what should be a non-partisan process.
The current rules already allow the Commissioners to pick which capital or building projects it wishes to fund. In the past three years, they have chosen due to budget concerns, to fund none except those from voter approved bonds. The county schools have been excellent stewards of this money. The capitol projects have come in under budget and on time.
Finally, an act such as this harms what has been a strong working relationship. The Commissioners and Board of Education members have helped to create a strong school system that is among the best in the region and the state. To pass this resolution would politicize a process should be student centered.
UPDATE: The county commissioners decided not to take action related to this resolution. Instead, they decided to request a joint meeting of both the School Board and the County Commissioners. I look forward to this meeting and working with the commissioners to help build the best school system in the state. Thank you to everyone who called or sent emails related to this issue.