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Posted Monday, July 25, 2011
Pittsboro, NC - Much has been written and discussed in the past week about the Chatham County School budget. Some believe that the majority of the commissioners do not support the Chatham County Schools because we did not approve a request by the superintendent for an additional $706,000 to cover cuts imposed by the State legislature or to approve county relief of a $98,000 water bill from the town of Pittsboro.
Funding core services and protecting our environment are key components in this proposal.
I think it's important to put the request and the vote in context. In our approved budget this year we allocated $33 million to the school system. That is an increase over last years allocation. To help put this in perspective, our total property tax revenue is about $54 million. The $33 million represents 40% of our total spending. We spend $27.6 million on public health, sheriff's office, social services combined. The schools system, by a large margin, is our biggest commitment. Recognizing the critical nature of the schools to the overall well being of the county, it was the only department that was not asked to reduce their budget.
We didn't say that we wouldn't provide some additional funds to cover cuts by the state. We said we needed more information. The most recent requests were brought to us with almost no supporting data on how it would be spent. During our meeting, we asked some basic questions on different scenarios about the use of the funds. Since the minutes of the school board meetings reflect that the board was aware of the is level of shortfall as early as May, I expected that some thought had gone into contingency scenarios. I was surprised that the board had not even met to discuss this prior to coming to us nor were they prepared to answer basic questions.
seniors and lower income residents have expressed strongly that an increase in property tax would be detrimental to their families.
We will continue to support our school system but as commissioners, we are accountable to the tax payers. We don't want to micro manage the school budget. However, I expect that someone is and that they would be able to answer questions.
When you look at the budget approved at the June 20 board of education meeting you'll notice that the actual state allocation is $500,000 more than what was approved. It appears that most of the shortfall can be covered with existing state funding.
My hope is that the board of education will meet to ask the administration to answer some of the questions we are asking and to instruct the superintendent to provide more detail along with scenarios that will have the least amount of impact on the classroom.
The second request was for an additional $98,000 for a water bill from the town of Pittsboro. The town recently sent the administration this bill because they said they had been under charging for several years. Again I was surprised that the superintendent would come to us for relief without first discussing with the Pittsboro Town Board.
While it is impossible for the county to replace the cuts from the state, I am confident that the school administration and the BOC will arrive at an agreement that will minimize the impact of the state budget cuts as much as possible.
Brian Bock is chairman of the Chatham County Commissioners.
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