At least one Surry County Commissioner is saying that he doesn’t see any savings in merging the county’s three school districts into one.
Surry County Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Larry Phillips said that if county commissioners were to order a merger the county would have to increase school funding by more than $8 million.
Phillips referenced North Carolina law, pointing out that if commissioners were to order a merger the county would have to fund a consolidated district at the same level as the Elkin City Schools.
The Elkin City Schools, like the Mount Airy City Schools, reap the benefits of an added local property tax in each community. In short, that means that those districts receive a higher level of funding per pupil than the county network of schools.
The Elkin district’s supplemental tax rate is 12.2 cents per every $100 in property value; the Mount Airy district’s rate is 10 cents. The supplemental taxes in the two districts equated to $841,212 and $765,057, respectively, in 2014.
Most matters of school funding in North Carolina are based on the average daily membership, or how many students attend school in the district. Given the supplemental taxes in the two smaller districts, per pupil funding is higher.
Additionally, the law would require the county to fund the merged district at the highest per pupil rate within the three systems at the highest rate over the course of the past five fiscal years. Phillips said that rate would more than likely be last fiscal year.
In short, North Carolina law would require the county to increase the funding for a consolidated district to the level of the Elkin district’s per pupil funding. According to Phillips it would cost about $7.4 million to bring the county district to the same level of funding as the Elkin district.
Phillips said that another $677,000 would be required to bring the Mount Airy district’s funding to the same level the Elkin district is receiving.
Though the General Statutes would require the increase in funding, the law doesn’t outline the length of time for which the county would have to provide that increased level of funding. Cleveland County, which merged three districts by order of county commissioners in 2004, provided the increased level of per pupil funding for two years following its merger.
Phillips said that he believes the county might not see much savings as a result of the merger. “The state would save some money, but on the local level we would have to fund the shortfall to bring the entire county to the level of funding the Elkin district receives,” said Phillips.
Phillips added that “without a study showing where real savings are, I can’t see it (a school district merger).”
Andy Winemiller is a staff writer at the Mount Airy News. Andy can be reached at (336) 415-4698 or [email protected]