Budget woes, politics inflame school spending debate

Dec. 29, 2012 @ 05:08 PM

Emotions and rhetoric flew high as the Union County Board of Education and Union County Board of County Commissioners worked to create a school budget this year. 

The loss of federal EduJobs money and the amount of money the school district was required to return to the state left the school with a $9.6 million budget gap to fill. 

In April, the school board voted unanimously to cut 55 teacher positions and lay off more than 350 teacher assistants. The teacher positions were lost through attrition. 

Members of the community asked the county commissioners to help fill the gap and restore the assistants.

Many expressed concerns about how the school system spends money. Take-home vehicles and lawn mowers became a point of contention.

At one point County Commissioner Jonathan Thomas stated that the school system spends money “like a drunken sailor.”

In spite of the tension, the county commissioners voted to give an additional $1.6 million to the school system to hire the teacher assistants back. They restored about 350 positions. Some were lost through attrition or because people found employment elsewhere.

The school system has since paid back the $1.6 million.

The commissioners also ordered a study to look at how Union County Public Schools spends its money and whether or not additional cuts could be made or services could be offered more efficiently.   

The study was accepted the night the commissioners voted to approve their contribution to the school’s budget. 

New school board members have said they would like to start the budgeting process earlier in the year and have more meetings and communication with the commissioners. 

The school system, additionally, has been trying some of the suggestions offered in the study.