Public Officials Discuss Possible School Funding Cuts in Tyrrell County

Published 6:12 am Friday, May 9, 2014

Tyrrell County Schools is facing the prospect of large cuts to its Small County allotment from the state.

The North Carolina General Assembly recently cut $4 million from its small schools supplemental funding.

Tyrrell is projected to have a 20 percent cut in its Small schools allotment. This would change the allotment to 1,359,781 from 1,699,726 which is a $339,945 cut.

A consortium of public officials attended a meeting held April 29 in the Tyrrell County Board of Education building to discuss this issue.

Those in attendance included House Reps. Bob Steinburg, and Paul Tine, county superintendents Michael Dunsmore, Randolph Latimore, Tyrrell commissioners Tommy Everett,and Leroy Spivey , Tamara Ishee, with the State Department of Public  Instruction, Becky Taylor of the State Board of Education , Leon Holloman with the Northeastern Schools Association, Hyde School Board Chairman James Whitaker, Tyrrell School Board chairman Lee Scripture, and members Janie Spencer and Beverly Swain, Tyrrell Manager David Clegg, and John Metcalf, a lobbyist with the Policy Group representing the Small School Consortium.

Metcalf discussed his past efforts to restore funding for Tyrrell, and the small county school systems that he represents.

He mentioned that his group came up with several different version of the funding formula that they believe the North Carolina General Assembly will accept.

“Regardless of whatever funding formula we put forward, we are going to need a appropriation of about $4 million,” said Metcalf.

Metcalf asked Tine to present a formula that Tine had drafted which would send more dollars per student to systems with lower enrollments among the 27 districts eligible.

“The issue that we really had during the last session was tying a policy to the formula. Because as we all know that formula is very complicated. Also it is difficult to explain why we spend that much money in each one,” said Tine.

Tine mentioned that he and other legislators started out with the idea of reverting to the old formula.

“The idea is basically the less students that you have that leaves more per student that you need to spend. So as you get up with the number of students, you come down with the corresponding amount of money. The idea to figure the formula is that everyone ends with the same amount of money that they had or similar amounts,” said Tine.

Tine mentioned that he was working with his staff so that the formula stays consistent as the number of students change. As the formula currently stood there were several categorized areas that had bigger jumps than others.

Once the formula is resolved, it will be easier to make further decisions regarding restoration.

“We still have our second plan. This is if we cannot get it to work out numbers wise then can we go back to where we were,” said Tine.

Tyrrell and Hyde would each receive $1,730,000 under the plan that Tine and his staff had worked on together.

The five smallest school districts in terms of student numbers in North Carolina, are Tyrrell 561, Hyde 594, Jones 1,115, Graham 1,203, and Pamlico with 1,274 students, according to Tine’s data.

Representative Steinburg mentioned that swift action was needed regarding funding.

“The need is immediate. The long-term consequences of this even for one year from stumbling or hesitating would be disastrous,” Steinburg said.

Dr. Dunsmore mentioned that Tyrrell School officials were currently discussing budget issues with staff members and other related employees.

“Those small county cuts would be devastating to us. We are looking at if we will be able to operate the entire school next year with the funding we have in place. We are talking  salt of the earth people that we have to by law be having these conservations with within the next several weeks,” Dunsmore said.

Dunsmore mentioned that Tyrrell County Schools has been facing budget issues year in and year out.

“We are at the point where our fund balance is not going to sustain us even through the next school year,” said Dunsmore.

Dunsmore mentioned cutting 37 positions during the five years he has spent in his position.

Dr. Randolph Latimore, Hyde school superintendent, said he had cut 34 positions in recent years and cannot afford to reduce staff any further. He pointed to the facts that Ocracoke school separation from the mainland puts consolidation out of the question.

Leroy Spivey said the county’s population is declining, which in turn affects school enrollment.

“I am wondering at what point could Tyrrell County School get to the point where they could not operate. And what would be the solution? Would consolidation be on the drawing board?” he asked.

Tyrrell Commissioner Nathan Everett said the property tax rate would have to go up eight cents if Tyrrell’s small school allotment was not restored.

“Forty-four thousand dollars is what a penny raises. We are already trying to struggle with running the rest of the county’s government. Anything that the legislature can do, we need it,” said Everett.

A mandated 2016 property revaluation may also result in a lower tax base for Tyrrell County

“We may have this discussion again down the road,” said Spivey.

Tyrrell lost $200,000 because of Hurricane Irene.

“So the county’s fund balance has been depleted because of the hurricane,” said Everett.

Atkinson mentioned an alternative for the small schools supplement.

“Is there a way to look at the distribution of how small school funds are expended and instead of looking at a guaranteed dollar amount look at a guaranteed position approach?” she asked.

Atkinson promised she would have her staff research whether an appropriations formula based on positions would work.

Representatives Steinburg and Tine reassured local officials they would be working on a solution to the problem.

“You will not have to go bankrupt,” said Steinburg.