Dare school and county officials meet: ‘We’re committed to the school system’

Published 2:57 pm Wednesday, February 8, 2023

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Dare County’s 5-on-5 Committee met for the first time this year.

The meeting, held Jan. 24, 2023, brought together representatives from Dare County’s Board of Commissioners and Board of Education.

All but one of the Board of Education members were new to the committee. Making up the school delegation were school board Chairman Ron Payne, Vice Chairman Barry Wickre, board member David Twiddy, Dare County Schools Superintendent Steve Basnight and, sitting as interim finance director, Steve Blackstock. Twiddy was the only returning committee member.

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Chairman Robert L. Woodard, Vice Chairman Wally Overman, commissioner Rob Ross, county manager Bobby Outten and deputy county manager/finance director David Clawson represented Dare County.

Woodard presides at these meetings and asked the school delegation to begin.

Basnight started: “We’re not going backward. We’re going to focus on learning.”

He reported that he is now setting up advisory committees of students, parents and classified and non-classified employees. Next year, a calendar committee will be set up. He will meet with each committee quarterly.

Payne, Twiddy and Wickre offered comments. As for a school finance director, Basnight said the system had made an offer but was turned down.

Clawson explained the operating budget process to the new school board members.

Prior to fiscal year 2016, the budget was by settlement, often times contentiously. The old formula was based on average daily membership without a relationship between actual costs and student population increase. The student membership number was rising at 1% while funding was increasing by about 28%. The situation could not be sustained.

So, the county manager and county finance director and school superintendent and school finance director started meeting early in 2015 to find another way.

The quartet looked at costs based on student numbers and fixed costs. The vast majority of costs were fixed, like turning on the lights and heating and cooling school buildings. The group added up those costs and multiplied by the consumer price index, which in 2015 was 1.3%. It was 6.5% in 2022. The increase between two years is the amount Dare County increases its funding for schools.

With variable costs associated with the number of students, a cost per student was calculated and then multiplied with the number of students. Again, the increase between two years is the amount Dare County increases its funding for schools.

Dare County monies fund a number of staff positions. To make sure that state- and county-funded positions have the same salaries, the county follows salary and other salary-related increases approved by the North Carolina General Assembly.

The most recent example is a budget amendment passed by the Dare County Board of Commissioners on Jan. 3, 2023.

North Carolina General Assembly adopted its budget after the county. The county operating funding for the school system is calculated on estimates. The state budget provided a cost of living increase at 4%. The county’s estimate was 2%. The state budget set the employer retirement system rate at 24.5%. The estimate was 24.19%. The budget amendment sent $199,775 in additional funding to Dare County Schools.

The action also points out another operating procedure for budget making. Any increase outside the consumer price index needs Board of Commissioner approval.

For the 2016 county budget, the quartet developed a plan and asked respective boards to send elected officials to the group, thus creating the 5-on-5 committee.

Another budgeting principle was established. The county’s funding would always be based on the previous year’s actual costs.

The system has been in place ever since. Budgeting is no longer adversarial. The 5-on-5 committee has continued meeting to address concerns and keeps the conversation going.

As to fund balance, the school board is limited to $1 million.

As to capital expenditures, the school board requests and the county tries to work the request into its capital improvement budget. This year the requested and budgeted capital improvements for the schools totaled $1.79 million. The local capital outlay by model is $573,805.

This year the Dare County budget total $22.1 million for the schools, or 38% of Dare County’s overall budget, reported Woodard.

“We’re committed to the school system – no doubt about it,” commented Woodard.

Ross brought statistics to the table. “Nine of 10 schools met or exceeded growth. All increased proficiency. It’s clear we’re on the right path,” said Ross.

Woodard was not happy about the Dare Guarantee Scholarship results. In two years, the county as given out $275,000 to 171 students. The county sets aside $250,000 annually. “I think we can do better.”

Woodard also asked for a decision on early college. The county has set aside the old College of The Albemarle campus on Russell Twiford Road on Roanoke Island for that use.