Board of Education and Commission discuss budget request

Published 4:28 pm Friday, April 22, 2022

By KAREN THIEL

For the Washington Daily News

Ideas and information will take center stage Friday at a joint meeting of the Beaufort County Board of Education and the county’s Board of Commissioners. The only topic discussed will be the Board of Education’s upcoming budget request to commissioners.

“This is a learning opportunity for our commissioners and has been going on long before I started in 2019,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Matthew Cheeseman, “because state and federal mandates change every year, as well as new initiatives and different state or federal priorities for our schools, so we want to keep the commission informed.”

Cheeseman said no vote will be taken during the session, which is open to the public and will be held at 12 p.m. Friday, April 29 at 845 North Pierce Street in Washington. The purpose of the entire meeting is to review “how things are going, what kind of help we may need on a local level, and how we can keep public education strong in our county.”

Asked about what concerns might arise, Cheeseman said the only issue “might be state funding, which goes up and down. They make projections of what kind of teacher funding is needed and then work to balance that across the state. Sometimes they’ve been known to issue a funding amount and take it back in the middle of the year.” Cheeseman said that can turn into a local funding challenge “considering the fact that we have a fair amount of facilities as well as staff” at the county’s 14 schools.

Board of Education member Carolyn Walker expressed optimism about the meeting, saying that she expects the discussion to include plans for “coming out of Covid” as well as possible needs if requested funding is not what’s granted. “Our school system needs to progress in order for the whole city to progress,” she said during an interview this week.

Walker said her concerns revolve around the fact that the county’s education budget has remained relatively flat while student, teacher, staff and other costs are increasing, especially as post-pandemic recovery needs arise. “It’s like when you have $50 for groceries, you’ve found everything on your shopping list, and then the cashier says your total is $65. You have to decide what to buy and what to push down the road a little farther.”

She added that Covid funding from the state will not be helpful for most anticipated needs because of strict rules on what that money can be used for. Even so, she was optimistic about funding capital projects including several roof replacements, and paying for the continuation of the free breakfast and lunch program, as well as hiring tutors and specialists to help students who have suffered pandemic-related declines in achievement levels.

“Our commissioners always come away knowing why the things we request are needed. We’re looking forward to a good meeting,” she said, an expectation which Cheeseman echoed, and added that commissioners “have always had an open door to us. We are very fortunate. We all want to see public education continue to be strong in our county.”