PEMBROKE — The Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County spent Friday night and some of Saturday on a retreat that focused mainly on discussions surrounding ways to develop a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 that will address state budget cuts and still provide students a quality education.
“There’s a lot of unanswered question until the state finalizes its budget,” said Superintendent Johnny Hunt. “We received our planning figures a few weeks ago, but these could change depending on if there are more state funding cuts.”
According to Erica Setzer, chief finance officer, the system will have to revert back to the state about $8 million in funds during the next fiscal year. The next budget will also be without $4.8 million in federal stimulus money that the district is now using to fund about 135 teachers through September.
Hunt told board members that he would like to see the state allow more “flexibility” in the way school districts can spend state money.
“Give us flexibility,” Hunt said. “Those of us in this room know how to use the money best.”
Both Hunt and Setzer said that the best scenario for the local schools would be if Gov. Beverly Perdue’s proposal to implement a three-quarter-cent sales tax to generate additional revenue for public schools is approved by the General Assembly.
“I’m not saying this would definitely happen,” she said. “There are a lot of variables involved.”
Board member John Campbell told administrators and fellow board members to “look at the worse scenario” as the budget is prepared. The Republican-controlled General Assembly is considered unlikely to approve the sales-tax hike.
“The governor’s budget will never pass in the Legislature,” he said. “It’s dead on arrival.”
Although final budget figures are not available, Setzer said that the school system must present a budget plan to the county Board of Commissioners on May 21. The commissioners are currently working on their fiscal 2012-13 budget, a budget that will become effective July 1.
A brief heated exchange between board members Campbell and Dwayne Smith came about when the board discussed the district’s student school transfer policy. Smith, whose district includes Tanglewood Elementary School, raised the issue of student transfers at Tanglewood after Assistant Superintendent Walter Jackson reported that 14 of the system’s schools have reached their student capacity.
“I have recent figures showing that there are 124 kids coming into Tanglewood by transfer, 30 of them into kindergarten,” Smith said. “Where are you going to put all of them? We’ve got to do something fast.”
Campbell objected to Smith only referring to Tanglewood and not naming other schools in the county.
“Tanglewood is not the only school that’s at capacity,” Campbell said. “All you keep mentioning is Tanglewood. What’s so special about Tanglewood?”
Smith suggested that any students who have already transferred to a school should be permitted to stay at that school, but new transfer students should have to pay a fee to help cover the extra cost of educating the student.
The idea was opposed by Loistine DeFleece.
“I’ll never support fees on any of our students,” DeFleece said. “They are entitled to a public education.”
In other business Saturday:
— If the state still permits, the system will charge students taking driver’s education $45. The state currently allows school districts to charge up to $45 to help finance the cost of administering the program, but the program has been free in Robeson County. Students 14 and half years old can take driver’s education; about 1,600 to 1,700 do so each year in the county school system.
— At the suggestion of Campbell and board member Brenda Fairley-Ferebee, the board agreed to recommend that the county take possession of the old Townsend Middle School gym in Maxton. Currently, the building is being used by the school system to store supplies.
Maxton officials have been wanting the old gym turned over to the county so it can possibly be given to the town for use as a recreation and community center.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or email@example.com.