WJTV News Channel 12 - Carteret County approves $500,000 school board request

Carteret County approves $500,000 school board request

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A local school district is getting half a million dollars to pay for new hires.

Carteret County commissioners approved the funds Tuesday morning, but not before a heated discussion about how the school system spends its money.

The Carteret County School board laid out its case for more money: inflation, dwindling state funds, rising student enrollment.

But the stewards of your tax dollars, county commissioners, say they're not completely sure how the school spends the money they already have.

"Quite frankly, I spent a lot of time when I became a commissioner trying to understand how the school works and if you're not of the school, it's hard to figure out," said Robin Comer, Carteret County commissioner.

Commissioners voted unanimously to give the school system the $500,000 it needs. The school board plans to use the half million dollars to pay for three teachers and a tech assistant they hired this year. It will also be used for professional development and instructional materials.

"Well, obviously our school system's thrilled," said Dr. Dan Novey, Carteret County School superintendent.

But it came with a request that the school board work harder to trim its growing budget.

"Schools represent 40% of our county budget, so it's a big deal. When they raise their budget a little bit, it has a big cause and effect on our citizens and the tax dollars," said Comer.

Commissioner Jimmy Farrington said the school spends some of its money inefficiently, and both boards need to work together to identify where. The school board shot back, saying it costs money to have good schools.

"I don't believe we're inefficient. We are very careful about every nickel we have and we make it a quarter," said Novey.

Commissioners raised another concern. Comer says the school gambled with people's livelihood by hiring teachers with money that was only for one-time use.

"Reserves are one-time monies. Typically one-time expenses are paid out of reserves, not recurring expenses, and that was a concern and I think they understood that today," said Comer.

Novey objected to the word "gamble."

"It wouldn't be the word I would use," he said. "What our board of education has always done is it has always done its part in its partnership and Mr. Mansfield reminded the board of commissioners that we allowed or we were OK with the commissioners using $1.5 million that was set aside in contingency last year for capital expense. If we didn't have our own monies that we were saving and being very careful with, we would have needed the $1.5M for our operating budget."

The one thing both sides understand: it's difficult balancing the need for a quality education and the need to keep property taxes down.

-- Previous story --

A local school district needs more money to avoid laying people off.

The Carteret County school superintendent, Dan Novey, wants commissioners to approve five hundred thousand more dollars. He says he wants to keep teachers in the classroom, but without that money, it may not happen.

"We're going to think long and hard about bringing back individuals next year if we don't have that built into our budget. So it will have a tremendous impact," said Novey.

He says the district hired three teachers and technical assistant with money from a contingency fund.

But county commissioners aren't eager to release those dollars.

Unless they do, Novey says, they'll have to dip into the district's savings account, and there's only $1 million left.

"A million sounds like a lot to ordinary folks like us, but when you're dealing with an $80 million budget, you know the percentage is rather slight," said Novey.

One commissioner is already promising to vote in favor of releasing the funds.

"We've had a lot of support for the schools in my previous boards of commissioner and I'd hate to see it deviate from that," said Jonathan Robinson, commissioner.

But 9 On Your Side spoke to two other commissioners who are more hesitant about the request. They say they need evidence showing the school system really does need this money.

The two commissioners didn't want to go on-camera, but they say they need more time to research the school's audit report, which came out last week, to make sure the school is spending its money efficiently.

The audits are done every year.

"That's a procedure in place to make sure that we're getting our bang for our dollars and the school is continually meeting the criteria," said Robinson.

The audit report came back clean, said school public information officer Tabbie Nance. Last year's audit report showed four weaknesses, she said.

County commissioners denied the district's request for the money back in September. Novey is hoping this time, they'll change their mind.

Commissioners are tentatively scheduled to talk about the funding request at their meeting on December 16.

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