County board to discuss school funding

By Andy Winemiller -

DOBSON — One county commissioner is expecting a “robust” discussion at a budget workshop scheduled for Tuesday evening.

The workshop is the final session in which the members of the Surry County Board of Commissioners will work in a somewhat informal setting to iron out any differences they might have with the county manager’s recommended budget, which was presented to the county board on Monday.

The workshop is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at the Surry County Government Center.

“I think you can expect a robust, healthy debate in regard to per-pupil school funding and supplemental school taxes,” said board Chair Eddie Harris on Friday.

The board had already been set to discuss the supplemental property tax rates the Mount Airy City Schools and Elkin City Schools use to fund a portion of their operations. Both districts asked for increases to those tax rates.

Surry County Schools does not benefit from a special education tax.

“All of those items deserve a detailed conversation,” added Harris.

Harris said he also plans to lobby for an increase in the schools’ per-pupil current expenses funding level.

“Personally, I think we need to increase the per-pupil allocation,” said Harris. “I’m not sure what the magic number is though.”

In the recommended budget, County Manager Chris Knopf included no increase to the regular funding source, which is meant to be directed at operational expenses. The rate was increased from $1,090 in the 2015-16 fiscal year to $1,115 in the 2016-17 fiscal year.

School officials from all three districts have asked that the rate be raised to $1,175 per student. With about 11,000 students enrolled in all three districts and in charter schools, the impact of such an increase to the county budget would be about $660,000 over the county manager’s proposed budget.

Harris noted some of the work in ironing out any differences in the budget will occur prior to Tuesday evening. The board’s finance committee, which consists of he and Vice Chairman Van Tucker, will meet with all three superintendents throughout the day on Tuesday.

Harris said the reason behind the meetings is to “get a firm grasp on what they are facing.”

Tucker said the meetings should help he and Harris sort out any “wants from needs” school districts might have. He believes there may be some room for negotiation on the matter of per-pupil education funding.

Like Harris, Tucker believes the per-pupil funding will be the largest matter of discussion commissioners bring up at Tuesday’s budget workshop. While the districts also requested increases to their per-pupil capital outlay funding, he believes that matter has already been addressed by way of $30 million in borrowed monies set to address capital needs throughout the three school systems.

Another matter which was already planned to be discussed at the workshop is fire district taxes. According to Knopf’s recommended budget, six of the county’s 17 volunteer fire departments appeared before the board’s fire districts committee to make a case for increases to the tax rate which funds their operations.

All of the departments cited a paid firefighter initiative, which would staff departments with a paid firefighter primarily on Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., as the reasoning behind their requests.

By Andy Winemiller

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

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