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Opinion Letters Time for the board to make the tough decisions

The Macon County School Board (MCSB) believes it will have to reduce spending by $1.95 million, about five percent, this fall unless it gets more money from its funders — state, federal, and county taxpayers.

The MCSB is in a tough position because it is limited to spending only the money it is provided, like a child’s allowance from their parents. It is also in an enviable position because it can lobby county commissioners for more money, without being directly accountable to taxpayers if property taxes increase.

The interim superintendent recently released a list of “possible reductions” to cut the $1.95 million. There were items included which I believe were intended to upset various constituencies in an effort to pressure county commissioners to increase the property tax by 2 mils, or dig into the county’s bloated fund balance, to fund the $1.95 million. It’s always “first responders and garbage collectors” to be fired first, or “it’s for the children,” to attempt to influence public opinion. Don’t fall for this publicity stunt.

Here are some of the most recent data from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s web site from March 1, 2013.

In 2011-2012 the MCSB spent a total of $40.6 million, or $9,436 per pupil. In 2003-2004 the total was $29.1 million, or $7,147 per pupil. That’s a 32 percent increase in per pupil spending while the Consumer Price Index increased by 22.2 percent. During the same period the county’s spending per pupil increased 53 percent, not including financing for schools.

In comparison, the county’s 2012-2013 General Fund budget, less $7.56 million provided directly to county schools, and not including school financing, or $500,000 for school “technology,” totaled $36.8 million. County schools cost $3.8 million more to run than county government with all the services it provides taxpayers.

It’s time for the MCSB, the interim superintendent, and some commissioners to stop blaming the N.C. Legislature for school funding problems. The Legislature did what it had to do to balance its budget. The MCSB took federal “stimulus” money, which was as much as $4 million per year, or $1,000 per pupil, each year over the last three years, knowing it was only temporary. Remember the school funding “cliff” we have been hearing about for several years that was going to happen when “stimulus” money was gone? With “stimulus” money gone, and the former superintendent gone escaping any blame, the county school system is now at the bottom of the “cliff.”

Many county taxpayers have reached their limit on their generous support for county schools - hefty annual appropriations, new schools, $1.5 million for “technology,” annual teacher bonuses, funding 53 teacher positions (not the county’s responsibility).

It’s time the MCSB made some really tough decisions to get its finances under control just like taxpayers have done over the last five years. It must live within its means without expecting to get the county to bail them out with more taxpayer money.

Vic Drummond — Franklin, N.C.

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