DOBSON — Surry County’s representatives to the North Carolina General Assembly say the state’s school systems will be fully funded for next year, but nothing is set in stone at this point.
During an informal breakfast meeting with members of the Surry County Board of Commissioners and department heads, Sen. Don East said the House Education Committee is looking for “pots of money” that can be tapped to fund the state’s schools without a “discretionary reversion.”
Under discretionary reversion, which the state’s school districts have been struggling with for more than a decade, the state funds local districts at a certain level and then requires them to pay a portion of that money back.
Both Mount Airy and Surry County school officials have said a sharp increase in the amount the systems are being required to pay back next year, coupled with the loss of millions in federal dollars, will result in job losses if something isn’t done.
In the county system, the expected 17.2-percent increase in the reverted funds translates to nearly $2.5 million. City school officials say the amount reverted back to the state will increase this year from $478,527 to about $561,000.
East said the goal is to simply “fill that hole” in the state budget for next year.
“From there, we can take a look at it during the long session,” he said. The longer session of the General Assembly starts in January.
Department Heads Talk Issues
During the meeting, several department heads told the legislators that cuts in state funding could have dire consequences for their departments.
Susan Jarrell, director of the county’s Board of Elections, said her department is eligible for about $4 million in federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) grant funds, but in order to receive the money the state must maintain election budgets at or above the level funded in 2000.
“These funds could be released by the General Assembly providing an appropriation of approximately $660,000 in additional Maintenance of Effort funding to the State Board of Elections,” she said.
In the past, the federal dollars have been used to purchase voting machines and operate satellite voting sites, Jarrell noted.
Assistant County Manager for Economic Development and Tourism Chris Knopf gave the legislators a brief overview of his department’s projects, noting that good news is coming on one front.
The renovation project for Pittsburgh Glass Works in Elkin, while still a little behind schedule due to a required power sub-station on the site, is getting even more investment from the company.
“The project is really starting to pick up steam,” he said, noting that the company is in the process of hiring key people for the Elkin location.
Knopf said the company, which will make automotive glass for Chrysler and Ford, already has sold its first year’s production.
“The other big change is they’ve decided to spend some more money on the building’s facade,” he said. “They’ve decided to turn this location into a showcase facility, so when they’re having meetings with automotive executives they will be coming here. Surry County is going to be getting a little more traffic in the next few years.”
County Manager Dennis Thompson gave the legislators a brief update on the ongoing Interstate Water and Sewer Project, which will expand infrastructure in the county and hopefully help spur economic investment.
Thompson said local officials are aggressively trying to find an additional $589,000 in funding to develop a transmission line to the Mount Airy wastewater treatment plant.
“The county has already contributed $439,000 to the project, and we’d appreciate any help you could give us with finding a state source of money,” he said.
Betty Taylor, assistant county manager for budget and finance, told the assembled legislators that a cap on the amount of lottery money that trickles down to the local level is hurting the county’s schools.
“Lottery money is really important to us,” she said, noting that the funds are often used to cover up-front costs with capital improvement projects. “That money allows us to close loans on school construction projects.”
The state has placed a cap of $100 million that it will distribute to the local districts, a decline from the statutory allocation of $176.4 million.
“The difference for Surry County between the two allocations is nearly $600,000,” she said. “That’s money that could be used to fix the leaking roofs on several schools.”
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.