A large percent of people who spoke at a recent public forum in Elkin say they favor a school board proposal there to raise the supplemental school tax for town residents from 12.2 percent to 14.5 percent
The Elkin Schools Board of Education held the forum Monday night to gauge public interest in the tax hike. In addition to board members, Surry Commissioners Eddie Harris and Van Tucker attended the meeting. Ultimately, it is the county commissioners who must approve or deny the request.
School board Chairman Dr. Richard Brinegar gave a brief history of the supplemental school tax, which has fluctuated over the years from 16 percent to 13.6 to 14.5 and to the current rate of 12.2 percent in 2009. From 2009 to 2013, Brinegar noted, the federal government gave a stimulus package for the schools.
Superintendent Dr. Myra Cox explained following the end of the stimulus funds, the school system has had to use fund balance to cover some expenses. She also noted that Elkin City Schools has seen a decline in enrollment in the past several years, which impacts the state and federal funding provided to the school system.
“When funding streams from the state and federal level are depleted within the school year, we dip into fund balance in order to maintain personnel and to sustain programming,” Cox said. Examples of what those funds are used for range from unexpected building maintenance to paper and ink costs, substitute teachers, and professional development.
“Restoring the supplemental tax is about our students and it’s about the quality of instruction they are deserving of,” Cox said.
Cox said school officials are reviewing expenditures and have made cuts, but the goal is to continue to provide additional opportunities for students, hence the need for additional funding by way of the increased tax.
“We want to provide a quality education for our students with the STEAM-infused curriculum to prepare them for the next phase of their life,” she said. “We have to have the personnel, the materials, the equipment, the technology and the resources for hands on learning.”
Surry County Commissioner Eddie Harris commended the school board for hosting the session and asking for input from citizens. Harris noted that the Surry County board has been conservative in the past few years when it comes to tax increases.
“We told them [the Elkin City School Board] that it was well within their purview to ask for this increase if they felt strongly about it and the [Surry County] board would give it a very fair look,” Harris said.
Ten Elkin residents spoke at the meeting, with a majority being in favor of the increase.
Myra Cook of the Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce said that her office takes a number of calls from people looking to move to the area and one of the first questions they ask is about the quality of the school system.
Gary York also noted his support of the increase.
“Public education in North Carolina is under siege,” York said. He added that he was an advocate for the community that he wanted to see it continue to prosper.
Trish Long spoke against the increase, noting several grievances she had with the school system including annual leave payouts for central office staff, four-year contracts for central office staff, the high student-to-teacher ratio, and decreasing quality of the athletics and band programs at the school.
“I think the residents of Elkin School District should not be asked to bail out the previous administration,” Long said.
Teddy Long also spoke against the increase. He said his business was in real estate, and property taxes were one of his biggest expenses. He also expressed concern with how the school system administration functioned.
“It seems to me that the money I pay for the supplemental school tax is not being used wisely. It seems to me the priority of the administration of this school is themselves. I think they take advantage of the system.”
In response to comments that good schools entice families to move to the area, he said, “It’s my understanding that low taxes entice businesses to come and it’s my understanding that low taxes entice families and people to come live here.”
Other area residents who spoke in favor of the tax increase included Tom Gwyn, David and Lestine Hutchens, Susan Stewart, Ralph Beshears and Paul Hammes.
The Surry County Board is expected to make a decision on the tax increase at its meeting on June 19.
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter and Instagram @RippleReporterK.