Boards clash, again, over funding for schools

Published 5:14 pm Thursday, December 13, 2007

By Staff
School construction and Ed Tech Center are at center of discussion
Staff Writer
The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday authorized the allocation of $390,000 to cover a cost overrun related to construction of Aurora Middle School.
School Board Chairman Robert Belcher made the funding request during the board’s meeting, at which time he gave an update on the school system’s capital expenses so far this fiscal year.
Those and other difficulties with the construction project resulted in the school board needing $390,366 more than originally budgeted for the project.
Commissioner Hood Richardson told Belcher and county schools Superintendent Jeff Moss that regardless of the reason, he is “tired of overruns.”
Moss and Belcher said the overrun would be paid for with money from state’s Public School Capital Fund. They said the overrun would not cause the school system’s $1.5 million annual capital budget to be exceeded.
Commissioner Al Klemm’s motion to approve a $495,310 budget amendment to cover the cost overrun for Aurora Middle School and projects at four other schools was approved by a 5-2 vote.
Prior to that vote, Belcher and commissioners discussed expenses related to the Beaufort County Ed Tech Center, an alternative school for at-risk students.
Eight teachers at the school serve students — in the sixth through 12th grades — who have problems ranging from fighting to drug possession and students with learning disabilities.
Belcher said the school has 35 students enrolled, but its student population typically peaks at about 100 students by the end of the school year.
Richardson said the two boards had “institutionalized something that was intended to be temporary” and are spending more on students with disciplinary problems who “are the responsibility of the parents.”
Richardson said students caught fighting or possessing drugs should not be returned to school, but they should be put “in the penal system.”
Moss said it is “dramatically more expensive” to incarcerate a person than to educate that person.
Richardson responded, “I don’t care.”
Commissioner Jerry Langley, who is a parole and probation officer, said it costs $16,000 per year to incarcerate a person. Belcher estimated that it costs $9,500 to educate a student at the Ed Tech Center or about $7,500 to educate a student in a traditional school.
Commissioner Stan Deatherage said the money spent on the alternative school could be more effectively spent in hiring vocational teachers for the county’s high schools.