Only two county commissioners of nine who serve on the county's schools and education committee attended last week's meeting which was scheduled to review the Board of Education's $51 million fiscal year 2014-'15 budget.

There wasn't a quorum so the committee could take no action. There were four other county commissioners who attended, but they are not on the committee.

Last month the BOE did not have its budget finalized for a May 21 meeting that had been scheduled with the Cumberland County Budget Committee, so that presentation was put off until later in June.

Although there wasn't a quorum for the schools and education committee, Director of Schools Donald Andrews and BOE Chief Financial Officer Bob Scarbrough gave a presentation of the highlights of the BOE budget to those who attended. That budget was finalized and approved by the BOE May 27.

"It's the biggest budget in the county that effects our tax dollars. I'm really, really disappointed more commissioners weren't here for this meeting," John Kinnunen, 9th District commissioner and committee chairman, said after the meeting.

Typically, in years past, the committee reviews the BOE budget and asks any questions of the BOE budget and then recommends the budget, or not, before it is presented to the county's budget committee.

"It's a chance for any and all commissioners to see the budget and ask questions before it is presented to the budget committee," Kinnunen said.

Andrews said he had no "hard feelings over commissioners not attending the meeting."

School board members Charles Tollett, 1st District; Josh Stone, 4th District; and Jim Blalock, 8th District, also attended the meeting.

During the presentation Andrews said, "We only required the minimum funding from the county last year and we used our fund balance. We want to be as transparent as possible. We are going to be asking the county for additional funding this year."

The $51 million budget will need additional funding from the county over and above required $16.7 million state mandate. Considering past growth in tax revenues of roughly three percent, the BOE budget will still have a shortfall of $519,289.

"We will be making a final request of $519,289 from the county and we will be using $2.6 million of our fund balance," Andrews said.

That request from the county includes additional local revenue of $161,000 to qualify Cumberland County for salary equity funds for teachers coming from the state. Also included is $150,000 for the differentiated pay scale required by the state that will compensate teachers for additional roles they take in the school system.

"If the county pays $161,521, then the state will pay $192,420 toward salary equity for teachers," Scarbrough said.

Harry Sabine, 1st District commissioner, asked if that would then become part of the maintenance of effort funds that would be required to be part of the county's mandated contribution in the future.

Stone said there was a new law going into effect July 1 where a one-time expenditure such as this could be waived if there was an agreement signed between the county and the BOE.

"I can only speak for myself, but I would support an agreement saying this be for only one year," Stone said.

He said he would research the new law, as well.

Scarbrough explained there would be no medical insurance increase this year, but there would be increased retirement rates for a total of $59,097.

Other highlighted expenditures include steps on the pay scale and longevity increases in the amount of $579,753; $15.8 million for teachers, including 365 regular, 4.5 RTI and 10 additional if needed; $533,617 for textbooks; $381,042 for Apple Computer financing for the next four years; $172,428 for teachers in the alternative school program; $1.5 million for teachers in the special education program; $206,000 for the trustee's commission, calculated at 63 percent of the county trustee's budget; $297,424 for nine maintenance personnel positions; and two new school buses at $182,000.

Sabine and Joe Koester, 5th District, asked about the future of the SRO program in the schools.

Andrews said the board intended to roll over the $233,000 budgeted for the School Resource Officer this year to the next year's budget and transfer that to the Sheriff's Department to continue the program.

Cumberland County Sheriff Butch Burgess, whose department covered the entire expense of the program this past year, did not propose continuing the program next year.

The school system budgeted the $233,000 for the SRO program but the budget transfer was not completed because the county commission and the school system were unable to develop an interlocal agreement regarding the funding, so no transfer of funds was made.

Koester said, "I'd like to see eight officers in eight schools."

Sabine said, "I think a lot of the commissioners would rather see eight officers in the schools, rather than four, and forget the new cars. I think that's where a lot of the problem came from."

Stone said, "I would have done things differently if we were to vote now. That is one of the things that's being discussed and I intend to get with both candidates for sheriff to have an idea of what they want and to get a plan together."

Stone chairs the school safety committee.

At the conclusion of the presentation, Andrews said, "I feel comfortable presenting this to you. We respectfully request  this and for the county to give your consideration to the school system's needs."

Committee members who attended were Kinnunen and Jan McNeil, 5th District commissioner.

Committee members who did not attend the meeting were Brian Houston, 1st District; Caroline Knight, 2nd District; Johnny Presley, 3rd District; Charles Seiber, 4th District; Larry Allen, 6th District; Roy Turner, 7th District; and Jeff Brown, 8th District.

Commissioners not on the committee who attended were Sabine; Dave Hassler, 3rd District; and Koester.

The Cumberland County Budget Committee is scheduled to review the BOE's budget June 10 at 4:30 p.m. in the small courtroom of the Cumberland County Courthouse. The public is welcome to attend.

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