Commissioners OK school funding formula

Mar. 19, 2013 @ 09:44 PM

The Union County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved an annual funding formula for the Union County Public Schools.

The formula projects an additional $1.7 million for school operations, formalizes how school capital projects are budgeted and establishes an emergency funding request process.

Public schools in North Carolina receive most of their operational funding from the state, but county governments are responsible for providing school facilities. In recent years, state and federal education spending cuts caused school districts to turn to county governments for supplemental operations funding.

Such intergovernmental budgeting processes between UCPS officials and the county commission has not always been harmonious. The Union County Board of Education has twice taken budget disputes with the county to legal mediation.

Union County Finance director Jeff Yates introduced a funding formula that dedicates 35.36 cents of the county’s property tax revenue to school operations funding. Yates explained the formula during a public meeting Monday afternoon.

The formula assumes a 98 percent collection rate. The annual funding total will be “trued up” at the end of the collections period, Yates said. If less money is given to UCPS than the dollar amount estimated due to low collections, the county agrees to true up the balance. Likewise, if the schools receive more than the annual estimate, the formula requires UCPS to return the overage to the county.

Instead of the county giving the schools money that schools then pay the county for school resource officers, the county takes over direct SRO funding under the new formula. That includes eight additional SROs at the estimated cost of $533,000.

The formula also sets up a series of deadlines for UCPS to submit operations funding requests to the county, annual policy changes by the county, capital project requests and projected yearly allocations.

County and schools would review the funding formula no less than two years and no more than five years from the last review. The exception is on years where the county performs a revaluation on property values.

And it also requires UCPS and commissioners to try to resolve funding disputes through joint meetings before taking legal action.

Only one person spoke about the funding formula during public comments. Indian Trail resident Beth Green expressed some of her funding concerns.

“I am concerned that we may not be meeting the needs of the teachers and students of UCPS when we talk about the money allocated,” she said. “Does it fit to this system and does it address the lack of steps for COLAs for our teachers considering they have not had those in the last few years.”

She also questioned if the formula accounted for continued population growth.

“But I’m worried that if we set it in stone for such a time, especially for an uncertain revaluation year coming, are we doing a disservice to the people of Union County,” Green said.

Yates addressed the question of population growth, saying that the fixed-penny value does not equal a fixed-dollar value.

“The idea behind using the penny value instead of the percentage value is that as there presumably is new growth, that penny value goes up accordingly. So the schools, as well as the county in this case, would be able to reap the benefit of that growth,” Yates said. “It wouldn’t be forever fixed at the dollar value of today’s 35 cents, but only the penny value of 35 cents.”

As the penny value grows over time, so the amount of money alloted to the schools will also grow, he said. The penny value will also protect the school’s allotment when the commission lowers the tax rates, such as it did this year. If schools were on a percentage funding formula, they would receive a percent of the lower tax rate, not the fixed penny value that would not change, Yates said.

Commissioners commented that the formula would prevent heated budget battles like the one waged over teacher assistant funding last year.

“It’s not desirable on behalf of the board of education. It’s not desirable by us. And it certainly doesn’t set the example for our children and how do we work together,” Commissioner Jonathan Thomas said. “So I think this is certainly a foundation to be able to build that collaborative effort.”