Beaufort Patriot

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The Beaufort County Board of Education, meeting Monday (10-26-09) spent more than half of its three hour and forty-five minute meeting in secret session. When they came out it was apparent that what took so long was a major re-work of a proposed "rapproachement" Agreement that had been proposed between the School Board and the Board of County Commissioners to settle the dispute over the 2006 funding law suit.

This article would become almost as tedious as the board meeting were we to recite the technical details of the "lawyer products" they hemmed and hawed on for nearly two hours, so what we'll do is let you decide. Here's <a href=http://www.beaufortobserver.net/rawfiles/draft2.pdf target="_new”>the county proposed</a>.agreement. The highlighted portions were changed or deleted by the School Board. Here's <a href=http://www.beaufortobserver.net/rawfiles/schoolsreponse.pdf target="_new”>the substitute</a> the School Board voted unanimously to respond to the Commissioner with.

The matter now shifts back to the Commissioners, who on Monday next will decide whether to continue playing this tête-à-tête game.

Regardless of the yin-yang, here are the basic facts. The lawsuit has been dismissed with prejudice, which means it cannot be brought back up by the School Board. The Commissioners could decide to pursue the return of $412,457 that was paid under the lawsuit which is now refundable if the Commissioners wish to seek to do so. The original funding guarantee agreement remains unchanged and ends in FY 2011 except for the stipulation that the schools will get the lottery money the county has been getting under the agreement and the county will get the state ADM facilities money. None of that changes, regardless of which agreement they eventually sign.

What does impact all this is not really addressed in either agreement. There will, by all estimates, be another revenue shortfall next year. Of course it remains to be seen which categories of funding will be hit or how hard. The original "Inter-local Agreement" was based on assumptions that did not include major revenue shortfalls. All either agreement provides for is that they'll "revisit" the agreement if there are revenue shortfalls.
But the School Board seems to be attempting to say: "we expect the County to fund the agreement next year" apparently regardless of what happens with state and/or local revenues. The Commissioners, of course, have to be concerned about how they are going to fund an agreement that was based on an assumption of increasing revenues when in fact they may be faced with declining revenues.
Unless they have discussed it in one of their secret sessions, the School Board is not developing plans to prepare for major revenue reductions. In fact, their first quarter financial reports show them spending $14.5 million from July through September of this year compared to $13.4 million for the same period last year.
As we have <a href=Articles-c-2009-10-22-239459.112112_Tax_revenues_down_4_in_first_quarter.html target=”_new”>reported,</a> state revenues, and local sales tax revenues, were down by 4% for the first quarter of this fiscal year compared to the same period last year and we all know that the reduced revenue last fiscal year is what led to all of the cutbacks and the billion dollar tax increase. Yet the School Board does not appear to be cutting back on its expenditures at this point. And meanwhile the school system has nearly doubled its Federal spending from $6.6 million to $12.7 million and increased its capital outlay (facilities and equipment) by budgeting all of its fund balance with nothing reserved for emergencies (except the roof at Washington High School).
So the saga continues. We'll let you know what the Commissioners do Monday night.


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