Despite appeals for additional school funding, the Moore County Board of Commissioners voted last week to keep school funding at current levels as they approved the fiscal year 2022 budget on Thursday. The move came after a public hearing earlier last week, noteworthy only because of the sparse participation.
The county budget for next year has been set at $180,183,862. As required by state statute, the budget that begins July 1 is balanced with anticipated revenue. The general fund tax rate will remain the same at 51 cents per $100 of property tax valuation.
The school district had requested $34 million for operating expenses and capital repairs back in April. Last week, commissioners decided to set aside $31.85 million for education in fiscal year 2022, the same amount as was allotted in the current year.
After voting unanimously to approve the budget, commissioners provided reasons they voted to keep education spending at current levels.
In his remarks, Chair Frank Quis pointed to unspent funds, a growing balance in the capital account, profits from the sale of surplus properties and money from COVID-19 relief funds as a reason not to allocate the increased amount requested by the school board.
“Based on the financial information we have received,” Quis said, “there is a very strong general and restricted revenue fund balance with Moore County Schools of over $5,647,000. This strong fund balance is due in part to the monies appropriated for this year’s budget. Funds that have not yet been spent.”
Quis went on to point to a $14.61 million fund balance for school maintenance and repair. That is what remains unspent in the capital account, according to Quis, who pointed out that these monies can also be used for the construction of a new school.
“Additional dollars generated from the sale of Moore County Schools’ surplus property, the four schools that have been closed, should exceed $3.698 million,” said Quis. “It was estimated by the school staff on January 15, 2020.”
The school district will receive approximately $25 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds over the next couple of years, according to Quis.
In his remarks, Commissioner Louis Gregory took exception to comments made at the public hearing.
“At our public hearing, I was amazed to hear that nowhere is education a priority,” Gregory said. “That is not true. Since I’ve been here, and I think even before then, education has always been a top priority. Just in the past four and a half years, you have built four new educational schools and major renovations to a Moore County high school.”
Gregory went on to say that money has been allocated to the school system for capital repairs and to support digital learning since 2018. He also pointed out that the number of students attending Moore County public schools has dropped between 2019 and 2020.
In her comments, Commissioner Catherine Graham spoke about the emails she received. “One thing that really bothers me is that in some of those emails we were criticized for funding law enforcement in Moore County and adding additional positions,” said Graham. “And frankly, that stings. I think we have good law enforcement in our sheriff’s department.
“Yes, education is a priority, but we want those kids to be safe in Moore County. We want all of our citizens to be safe. When I call 911 and ask for the sheriff to be sent to my house, I appreciate and expect to hear from the sheriff’s office and so do our citizens in Moore County. I do not think we’re over funding our sheriffs. I do not think we are providing too many positions. In fact, we struggled with this request and cut one of those requested positions. I hope we didn’t make a mistake in that.”
Commissioner Otis Ritter and Jerry Daeke said they agreed with the views of the other commissioners.
~Article and photo by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter John Patota.