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County board bails out school district

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A unified Nash County Board of Commissioners said Tuesday it will fund local teacher supplements with the understanding it won't again be held hostage by the Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education.

"If they don't accept this proposal, they are going to have to make some tough decisions," said county board Vice Chairman Wayne Outlaw.

To balance this year’s budget — and stop a possible state takeover of the system’s finances — the school board’s Finance Committee recently recommended that 35 percent of teachers' local supplement pay be reduced for the remainder of the academic year.

With the knowledge of the school board, Superintendent Shelton Jefferies on Friday requested of the commissioners a $800,000 funding advance to fix a budget shortfall and prevent teacher salary cuts.

Jefferies asked for a multiyear repayment agreement; the commissioners are willing to allow for one year.

In tight agreement with each other at their annual retreat in Sharpsburg, commissioners voted unanimously to give an $800,000 advance against fiscal year 2019-20 with four stipulations. To receive the funds, the school board has to agree to a full financial audit by the state Department of Public Instruction, an audit of the school system's budget to determine its fund balance, freeze all spending in the local budget except classroom instruction and expedite construction of a new elementary school in the Red Oak area.

A joint committee is required to establish a timeline to include:

■ An initial meeting within 30 days.

■ Size of the school determined within 60 days.

■ Site selection completed within 90 days.

■ Architect chosen within 120 days.

County board Chairman Robbie Davis said the story told in the community always seems to end up being that the commissioners didn't do their job or properly fund the schools.

Davis said his grandchild came home from school and asked why he was cutting his teacher's pay.

"We have given them the money, they spent it and are now coming back for more," said Outlaw, adding that the school board needs to figure out how to avoid being in the same situation next year.

The school system plans to spend the money three ways: $400,000 to fund teacher pay supplements; $200,000 for Citi High; and $200,000 for other operations.

Davis said the school system has been a year without a permanent chief financial officer, which adds to the system's serious financial straights.

"We can't tell the school board how to run the school system, that's their job," Davis said. "We can't run the schools, we can only fund the schools. No one seems to know what the fund balance is. No one there ever seems to know, the school board doesn't know."

Commissioner Lou Richardson said the commissioners need a role other than giving taxpayer money to the school system to spend. She evoked late Commissioner Billy Morgan, saying taxpayer dollars should be spent wisely.

"We need more control," Richardson said.

Commissioner Dan Cone said he doesn't like teachers' pay being threatened. He said teachers are under paid as it is and he wants assurances the board doesn't do this again.

Commissioner Fred Belfield said the school board and staff needs training to ensure they know how to balance a budget. He also called for the audit to be a comprehensive line by line investigation.

Commissioner Mary Wells said the school board is going after teacher pay while a top-heavy system has administrators who don't do anything all day but sit at their desk and go to lunch.

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