County doesn’t budge on school funding

Jun. 18, 2013 @ 04:54 PM

The Union County Board of Commissioners passed the 2013-2014 budget without increasing school funding.

In contrast to the June 3 meeting, few Union County Public Schools supporters attended to show solidarity for increasing the local capital appropriation for the district. Commissioner Richard Helms, who moved to postpone the budget vote two weeks earlier, said he had too many questions about the way UCPS officials spent funds in recent years to approve its $8.3 million capital request.

He questioned if UCPS gave teachers the pay increase that commissioners appropriated for that last year. Helms said the school provided a spreadsheet of budget needs, but he suspected it was the same budget from the previous budget year. The school system could find places to cut costs to pay for necessities, Helms said.

He moved to accept the budget as presented. Commissioner Frank Aikmus proposed an amendment to have County Manager Cindy Coto work with Superintendent Mary Ellis on a funding plan for state-mandated technology upgrades. Aikmus said the county could provide UCPS an additional $1 million to the $3 million the county

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budgeted for school capital. But the increase meant school capital funding would be reduced from $3 million to $2 million the following budget year.

The amended motion was approved by unanimous vote.

Aikmus explained the reasons for his vote.

“I want to say to the taxpayers of Union County tonight that I believe your board of county commissioners protected you from the tax-and-spend school board,” Aikmus said. “Now you may say the school board doesn’t have the authority to tax and I say you can thank heavens.”

Aikmus said he heard from residents asking for higher taxes to fund the schools.

“We are in a tough economic time. This is a time of economic recovery,” he said. “It is not a time to raise taxes.”

He agreed with previous public speakers that many people moved to Union County for its schools.

“We do have good schools, but we adequately fund those schools,” he said.

A property tax revaluation looms in the county’s near future, Aikmus said. That will likely necessitate a tax increase.

“If after tonight’s budget approval, the school board feels that they’ve not been adequately provided their needs, I say you go do what you need to do,” he said.

The school needs to budget more prudently, Aikmus said. If UCPS cannot operate with $2.2 million more from local funding compared to last year, Aikmus encouraged school officials to “take the next steps.”

He said that county employees were “truly our greatest asset” and another big reason people moved to Union County. He thanked county department heads that operated with dwindling budgets for being prudent with tax dollars.

“My mother would be proud of the final statement I’ll make because she was a teacher for 38 years,” Aikmus said. “Teachers I applaud you for continuing to work in an environment where your administration sees everything but you as a priority. Dr. Ellis said herself that graduation rates are not directly impacted by per-pupil funding.”

High graduation rates come from good, caring teachers, Aikmus said.