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Keep hands off fund balance of school system

Published: Friday, June 3, 2011 at 3:00 p.m.


Davidson County commissioners should follow the lead of chairman Sam Watford and reject a proposal by commissioner Fred McClure to raid the county school system’s fund balance for $800,000 to give raises to county employees. McClure presented this option to fund raises at the end of the commissioners’ informational meeting Thursday morning, and Watford’s initial reaction was now wasn’t the time for raises as the economy remains sluggish. But of even greater concern is the run on the Davidson County Schools’ fund balance, especially in light of potential cuts coming from the state Legislature

McClure correctly points out that any fund balance the schools accumulate comes from money allocated by the commissioners. However, he seems to want to punish the system for saving up $9 million over the years. Other county departments receive praise while conserving money with performance-based budgeting. This allows them to spend those savings on equipment or other needed items. Yet when the schools use their allocations effectively and bank a surplus, suddenly they become a target to be raided for money to use elsewhere

The state budget is nearing completion, and public education will see some major reductions. Even if Gov. Bev Perdue vetoes it due to concerns over education cutbacks, four House Democrats appear ready to side with Republicans and override the veto. No matter whether you believe Perdue or Republicans about the effect on public education, less money will be available to educate students. Local school boards may have the final say-so, but they will be forced to find major savings with reduced funding. Perdue’s office estimated the reduction could reach almost $6 million for Davidson County Schools

Such a reduction will mean many things, including some job losses. School board members will do everything in their power not only to preserve jobs but to make sure teachers have the supplies they need, that buildings remain safe, and that important programs don’t end. Having a source of money to accomplish these goals will be critical. Already $1.5 million from the fund balance is designated to help pay for the new middle school in northern Davidson County. So taking another $800,000 could hamper the board’s ability to offset the reduced state allocations.

Many employees in both the public and private sector have gone without raises the past few years during the recession. All want to return to regularly receiving raises when a new fiscal year begins. So McClure deserves credit for seeking a way to give raises to the county employees. However, he needs to identify another source of money to do that, and then commissioners can decide if now is the time for such an action. But leave the schools’ fund balance alone.

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