Leave community college reserve intact

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When accountants start looking for ways to cut costs, many a wary department head follows the axiom of “use it or lose it.”

That typically means, if a department doesn’t spend the money it has been allotted in its budget for a given year, someone will look for ways to cut the leftovers from the next year’s budget.

So credit both the North Carolina community college system and Gov. Pat McCrory for bucking that logic. Despite plenty of economic challenges and budgetary cutbacks, the community college system has managed to save $17 million in a reserve fund.

And despite the temptation to divert that money to address other state needs, McCrory says the community college system should be rewarded for its efficiency. The $17 million should stay within the system for use as its leaders see fit.

That’s a welcome departure from the norm. Budget savings ordinarily revert to the General Fund at the end of each budget year. McCrory has told each of his departments to do their best to put aside similar reserves between now and June 30 – the end of Fiscal 2013-14. Doing so would give each department a bit of a cushion going into the next fiscal year.

It couldn’t have been easy for the community college system to achieve those kinds of savings. Instructors have worked long years with little hope of pay raises. Meanwhile, the demand for community college training continues to increase. The system serves a highly diverse student body – everyone from displaced middle-age workers to former dropouts seeking GEDs to new high school graduates hoping to transfer after two years to a four-year university.

The N.C. General Assembly will wrestle with a new budget in its short session this summer. But legislators should heed the governor on this and leave the community college system’s reserves intact.