ISchool districts' per-pupil funding could be cut

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Posted: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 11:15 pm

While the leaders of both Iredell County public school systems have been asking the county’s board of commissioners for more money to make up for funding shortfalls expected at the state and federal levels, the truth is they may end up with even less, at least from a per-pupil perspective.

At Tuesday’s regular commissioners meeting, Board Chairman Steve Johnson made a motion to instruct top county staff to go into the budget planning process with the idea in mind that schools will get the same dollar amount in fiscal year 2013-2014 as they are getting this year.

The obvious problem with that math is that both Iredell-Statesville Schools and Mooresville Graded School District are each expecting to have 200 more students in the next school year than the number they started with in the current year.

Such additions, obviously, would lower the per-pupil spending as the same pot of cash would need to be divided by that many more students.

“I can see the letters already,” Johnson said, “‘That student-hating Johnson is at it again.’”

But Johnson said the economic climate is still too iffy to either raise property taxes or loot the county’s fund balance account to make up the additional money.

“If a sufficient amount of revenue comes in to make up the difference,” Johnson added, “then I will support maintaining the same per-pupil spending as the current year. But I will not go into fund balance.”

Johnson added that “only a fool raises taxes during a recession.”

Johnson’s motion passed with a unanimous vote despite a modest protest by Commissioner Ken Robertson, who wanted to maintain current per-pupil spending notwithstanding any increased student populations.

The action taken by the board does not bind it to any spending restrictions but simply gives instruction to county staff, particularly County Manager Ron Smith and Finance Director Susan Blumenstein.

Johnson said he was hesitant to make prognostications about the state of the national and local economy but did predict the things will not stabilize for three to four more years.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners approved a resolution offered by Commissioner David Boone to self-limit to $30 million the amount debt the board can take on.

Boone said he believes the North Carolina General Assembly should pass legislation or amend the state constitution regarding the incurrence of debt by governing bodies.

Boone had initially set a limit of $20 million but agreed to amend the resolution when both Johnson and Robertson balked.

Johnson said it is sometimes “prudent” to take on debt and cited the county’s ever more urgent need for more jail space as an example.

He said that when the cost to house inmates surpasses the amount the county would be spending on a new jail: “It would be like paying rent on a house that is more than you would be paying to own the house.”

Robertson’s concerns were with the also growing possibility the county is going to be called on to build a new school soon.

Boone’s resolution also passed by a 5-0 vote.

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