Moore County LogoThe Moore County Board of Education is seeking an addition $2.3 million in funding from the county for Fiscal Year 2015. School Board Chair Kathy Farren, along with Moore County Schools [MCS] Superintendent Aaron Spence and Chief Finance Officer Mike Griffin, presented the budget request during the Monday, May 5 meeting of the Moore County Board of Commissioners.

"Thank you for working with us," Farren said. "You work hard to keep us where we need to be."

Farren and Griffin have been working behind the scenes with Commissioners Nick Picerno and Randy Saunders, as well as the county budget team, to develop a funding formula that would add predictability to local school funding by allocating a fixed percentage of county tax revenues to the schools each year.

"That way, as the county grows and our tax revenues grow, they will benefit," Saunders told The Times after the meeting.

But remaining questions about state funding will likely delay the implementation of that formula until FY2016, Saunders said.

It is not clear whether MCS is receiving the full amount of funding the system is due from the state, he explained. MCS and the commissioners are working with state legislators and school officials to answer that question. But, until it is answered, it is impossible to determine the exact percentage of county tax revenues that should be allocated to the schools.

Recently, Saunders discovered that Cumberland County uses a similar funding formula for its schools.

The funding formula would also allocate a fixed percentage of the county's capital reserve fund to school facilities.

Saunders told The Times that the commissioners have already reached an agreement in principle with Sandhills Community College [SCC] that, when ratified in the county budget, will allocate five percent of tax revenue to funding the college — and a similar percentage of the county's capital reserve fund to the SCC's capital needs.

Growing Student Population Strains State Funding

Griffin presented a slide show packed with bar charts detailing MCS funding since 2008. The bottom line is that state funding has failed to keep up with the growing student population in the county.

MCS was responsible for 12,190 students in FY2009, and anticipates 13,074 next year. State funding per student was $5,508 in FY 2009, but dropped off sharply the following year, to $4,940 — a result of the economic downturn.

Though funding per student has increased in each of the past two years, it still has not reached pre-recession levels. MCS expects $5,048 per student in FY 2015.

Meanwhile, the cost of state employee health and retirement benefits have increased significantly. Health plan expenses are up 14.7 percent since FY2009, and retirement costs are up 74.8 percent.

As a result, MCS's state benefit costs have increased by $5.6 million over the past four years, despite cuts in the number of school system employees.

MCS plans to eliminate 35 positions in the coming year, Griffin said, a $1.6 million savings that will be combined with $200,000 in cuts in other areas.

Not including debt service, the county provided $26.6 million in funding to MCS in the current fiscal year. The school board is seeking just under $29 million for next year.

County Manager Wayne Vest is scheduled to present the county budget to the commissioners on May 20; a public hearing on the budget is scheduled for June 3.

Lottery Funds Approved for Pinecrest Tennis Courts

Also during Monday's meeting, the commissioners approved the used of $180,000 in NC Educational Lottery funds for repairs to the tennis courts at Pinecrest High School.

Commissioner Picerno asked whether the vote could be delayed two weeks; but Griffin said widening cracks in the courts presented a safety hazard, and MCS would proceed with the work whether or not the lottery funds were made available.

Picerno abstained from the final vote to approve the expenditure and told The Times after the meeting that the commissioners had only learned bout the request on Friday, affording them little time to research the issue prior to voting on it.

Griffin said MCS has a balance of just under $2 million in its lottery account, which grows by approximately $800,000 each year.

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