Board approves funding allocation

Published 1:11 am Tuesday, February 3, 2009

By Staff
Supports shift of money to replace state funds
Staff Writer
A proposal to fine the county schools $80,000 for replacing state money to pay teachers with local money was defeated Monday night by the Beaufort County Commissioners.
Commissioner Hood Richardson questioned Board of Education Chairman Robert Belcher on where the schools made cuts when Raleigh asked for money back.
Belcher said that as part of the cuts, the county asked the state to stop funding two teachers. Because the schools didn’t want to actually lose two teachers, officials paid the salaries with money originally earmarked for books and supplies.
The move cost $80,000, cutting each school’s allocation by 5.6 percent.
The state assumes on paper that each teacher earns an average salary, but actually pays the district what teachers earn. Because many teachers in Beaufort County make substantially less than that average salary, the schools were able to pay the two teachers for less than the state estimated it was paying. State costs for two teachers, including benefits, are more than $120,000 and local costs are $80,000.
But Richardson was angry that some of the $80,000 used to replace the state money came from local sources, rather than being moved from other state-generated funds.
The book and supply money that was cut at each school to find the $80,000 comes from a variety of sources. The county and the state both pay for supplies for students. Only the state funds books. The school board allowed each school’s principal to decide which of those funds to cut to reach the 5.6 percent reduction, so it isn’t clear exactly how much of the $80,000 was local money.
Belcher emphasized that the money didn’t physically leave the county.
Richardson called the point a moral one. “It’s a matter of misappropriation,” he said.
Belcher also noted that the county and schools are in a funding agreement, which means the county couldn’t take the money. The agreement results from a lawsuit between the bodies that is currently being deliberated by the North Carolina Supreme Court.
Richardson said that using the money for something other than its intended purpose was itself a violation of the agreement. Richardson’s proposed fine failed by a vote of 5 to 2. Commissioner Stan Deatherage supported the move.
Commissioner Al Klemm praised the school board’s move before the vote.
Also at the meeting, the commissioners agreed to prioritize infrastructure projects beyond what the county can currently fund. The list would then provide a template for what to do if grant or stimulus package funding becomes available to the county.
The commissioners agreed that the county’s top priority must be a new jail. The discussion stemmed from a proposal from Commissioner Robert Cayton, who asked that such a list begin with sewage facilities for the Southside municipalities, better bridges connecting the port of Morehead City with those in Virginia and creation of a new library in Chocowinity.
Commissioner Deatherage said sewage improvements in Belhaven should also be considered. The commissioners decided not to start a list yet, but plan to develop one soon.
Cutline for photo with story: Beaufort County Commissioner Robert Cayton proposes establishing a list of long-term priorities during the first segment of Monday night’s Beaufort County Commission meeting in Washington. (WDN Photo/Paul Dunn)