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County loan to go before school board

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Saturday, March 30, 2019

While the proposal to cut teacher pay seems to be dead in the water, members of the Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education will still need to make a decision Monday as to whether to accept an $800,000 loan that has several strings attached.

In the meantime, statements have been flying around on social media claiming that principals have been warned to avoid discussing the teacher pay issue with school board members. These principals also have been warned, these unidentified sources claim, to discourage teachers from attending Monday’s school board meeting “because the issue has been resolved.”

Shelton Jefferies, superintendent of Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools, denied that he or his staff members have made such comments.

“Board of Education members have full access to school leaders and school employees,” Jefferies said in an email interview on Friday. “No member of district administration has ever discouraged employee attendance or participation in public comments at Board of Education meetings.”

However, Jefferies did make it clear that the notion of cutting teacher and administrator supplements by 35 percent for the remainder of the school year in order to balance school district books is off the table, despite the fact that the school board has not yet voted on the issue.

“Principals were informed that the 35 percent system-wide adjustment is not being considered further,” Jefferies said.

The statement indicates that Jefferies expects that school board members likely will approve Nash County commissioners’ offer of an advance on next year’s appropriations, despite the stipulations that accompany it.

Nash County Manager Zee Lamb sent a letter Thursday to Jefferies concerning his request at a budget retreat Tuesday for additional funding this year. The letter provided more details as to the stipulations required by Nash County if the school board accepts the funding.

“I am writing in response to your formal request on March 25, 2019, for a funding advance in the amount of $800,000 due to a budget shortfall in the fiscal year 2018-19 school budget,” the letter said. The advance for the current funding year is subject to the following conditions:

■ The $800,000 advance will be paid back in next year’s funding cycle.

■ The state Department of Instruction will be requested by the Board of Education chairman as well as the Nash County Board of Commissioners chairman to perform a voluntary audit of the school system’s financial condition and include a review of the existing instructional staffing needs, the central office staffing needs and overall evaluation of the school system.

■ The school board auditor, Dale Smith, will perform an audit of fund balance currently available in each of the revenue accounts and report directly to the Board of Education and Board of Commissioners.

■ A spending freeze will be placed on the local budget for the current funding year.

■ The threat of reducing teacher pay will not be used in any future budget shortfall situation.

■  And the Board of Education will expedite the construction of a new elementary school to protect already obtained grant funds.

In an earlier interview, Nash County Board Chairman Robbie Davis said county commissioners have been trying to schedule a joint meeting to discuss plans for the elementary school for several months but had not been receiving cooperation from the school district. Davis and other commissioners are concerned that further delay will jeopardize a $10 million state grant and are demanding a meeting within 30 days as one of the terms of the $800,000 loan.

The decision will need to be made at Monday’s meeting.

“Any funding agreement between the two boards would require board approval and be voted on in a public meeting. Additional board action will be required to resolve our current challenge,” Jefferies said.

As school board members begin the budget process for the coming academic year, they will not only have to figure out how to pay back the $800,000 advance, if they accept it. They will also need to come up with funds to change the school district name and logo in order to meet a state statute that requires that the name of the school district be changed from Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools to Nash County Public Schools.

That requirement is a provision of the 2016 law that prevented the demerger of the school district along county lines and will be in force as of July 1, 2020.

Jefferies said it is too soon to tell where the funding to repay the advance will come from. The answer will have to come from the school board, he said.

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