Some tough decisions will need to be made by the Craven County Board of Commissioners concerning school funding.
Some tough decisions will need to be made by the Craven County Board of Commissioners concerning school funding. For the county to fully fund the Board of Education’s request, the county’s property tax rate could potentially increase.
During Monday night’s lengthy meeting, commissioners listened to the school system’s pitch for technology needs, which total $1.6 million a year, along with a request for additional capital projects totaling $2.1 million.
In addition, Craven County Schools is asking for a local increase of $536,000 in funding to meet salary and benefit needs, drivers’ education costs, payments to charter schools and a contract for GPS monitoring systems to be placed on buses.
The total request to the county by the schools is $24,206,196.
After listening to a presentation given by Superintendent Lane Mills and Finance Officer Denise Altman, several commissioners had questions — mainly on prioritizing the needs expressed in the budget.
According to the budget, there are three categories of capital projects. The first totals $2.1 million and includes transformer replacements, roofing repairs, heating and air-conditioning controls and replacements, building renovation including a bathroom addition at one school, and lighting and paving upgrades.
The second request totals $15,000 and includes furniture and equipment, with the final category including an activity bus replacement and vehicle purchases.
Finally, the last request is for a four-year replacement cycle for technology needs, which includes 15,000 devices.
According to Mills, the replenishment is “necessary due to an unfunded state mandate to administer all tests online beginning with the 2015-16 school year and the integration of technology in instructional practices.”
Commissioner Scott Dacey asked if the system had prioritized the needs in the capital budget. Mills said that could definitely be done.
Chairman Steve Tyson said he had many questions concerning the budget requests, but he planned to direct some of those to the maintenance director for the system.
“As far as roofing repairs go, I didn’t know about the other two (which include Vanceboro Farm Life Elementary and West Craven Middle) until recently,” Tyson said. “I understand the need at New Bern High School … that roof has been on for around 20 years.”
As for technology needs, Mills said the system would need to replace computers to meet state requirements for testing, which prompted Dacey to ask whether the system could update current computers rather than purchase new ones. Dacey also asked for documentation from the state with the new requirements.
“I can’t find anything online stating the directives you are telling me have come from the state,” added Commissioner George Liner. “I understand completely what you’re saying. I just can’t find anything online stating the specifications you have listed.”
Mills said he would be glad to provide any information requested by the board.
During the presentation by the school system, Altman said during the redistricting process, the system would be looking at adjusting staffing levels at the schools. This could in turn save money, she said.
“While you talk about redistricting and it possibly saving money, there haven’t been any estimates given on what you will be saving,” said Commissioner Thomas Mark. “I would really like more information on that.”
Altman responded that because some students will be grandfathered in to the school they are currently attending, it will be a work in progress to understand what positions will need to be shifted along with ensuring each school is adequately staffed.
Another question raised by Liner involved the need for technology.
“(The) $1.59 million is going to be a yearly cost incurred,” he said. “That is concerning. … You talk about adding all these additional computers, but there is no additional money for technical support. I am concerned that we really don’t have the full need and justifications for the technical side.”
Tyson added there are a lot of lingering questions concerning the budget. While no action was taken Monday night, the board and administrative county staff plan to work with those at the school system prior to a vote.
“As a county commissioner, my position is to work with the school board, not be an enemy of the school board,” said Commissioner Jason Jones. “I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t take this seriously. But this is a lot to take in … We can’t continue to put this on ad valorem property tax. We’re going to do everything we can to work with you, but this is a big list.”
Commissioners set a date of May 26 for a budget work session, where some of these items will be addressed.
Crystal Garrett is a reporter for the Sun Journal.