Citizens plead for school funding

Published 10:57 am Wednesday, May 22, 2013

COURTLAND—Pleas to fully fund the Southampton County proposed school budget made up the majority of comments expressed Monday night during a public hearing. Held at Southampton High School, the public hearing was an opportunity for Southampton County citizens to express their feelings about the county’s proposed 2013-2014 fiscal year budget.

The current proposed draft budget does not include a tax rate increase but instead keeps the rate at $0.75 per $100 valuation, does not include raises for county employees and does not include the extra $670,000 in funding requested by the county school board.

During Monday night’s public hearing,

Alice Schaffer, a parent of two children in the school system said she sympathized with the board for the difficult decisions that must be made but said if the county wanted to attract new business for economic growth, a strong school system was critical. She asked them to “show how much you value education” and fund the entire school request.

Another parent, Randi Winn, who has three children in county schools, said her husband works in the U.S. Navy and they returned to the area to live here because of the schools. She said that if the school budget was not approved, “our community, our schools and our children will suffer.”

Jack Claud of Ivor Road said the senior graduation rate at Southampton High School is 98 percent. “I don’t believe we should cut one single nickel from the budget that has been proposed.”

Chris Smith, chairman of the county school board, said the board has saved and had surplus funds at the end of the school year. “Search your hearts to do what is required for the school board budget,” he asked.

School Superintendent Dr. Alvera Parrish also spoke, saying she wanted one more opportunity to plead for the schools. “I understand you’ve looked at the numbers and revenue but I am asking you tonight to reconsider — I’m urging you to reconsider.” She said the schools’ request did not include anything that was not needed. “We have been prudent and reasonable,” she stressed. She urged the board to reconsider the two percent increase in pay and the positions requested. “Do the right thing – do the best that you can,” she said.

Supervisor Glenn Updike (Newsoms District) said that 26 percent of citizens in the county are on food assistance and that 50 percent of the population is just above poverty level. He said that with trash fees, the upcoming gas tax and the county’s debt service, “how can we expect people to pay the bills.” He added, “We cannot continue to increase taxes on the low income and under privileged.”

One citizen said the land use tax needs to be revisited, saying, “Go after those with the money.”

SHS Principal Allene Atkinson introduced some of the high school students in the audience saying, “We have the best of the best” but said classrooms are empty, drama is gone, and social studies, science and math classes all have two less teachers.

“Education is how we deal with people in poverty,” she stressed.

Supervisor Barry Porter (Franklin District) said the budget process was “gut-wrenching” and it was not easy to find an easy solution. He said he gave his salary earned as supervisor back last year to the general fund and this year pledged he would give it back to be used for the schools. He issued a challenge for citizens and businesses to “write a check and give it to the schools.” He continued, “If we aren’t willing to stand up and contribute, don’t throw rockets. I’m concerned about the future, more than this one year. We are working hard to make it better but we can’t do it overnight.”

Carl Faison (Boykins District) said he wanted to give the schools as much as possible. “We do support the schools,” he stressed. He said the presented budget calls for no tax increase. “The revenue has to come from somewhere, if we don’t raise taxes — the revenue is not there.”

Supervisor Alan Edwards (Jerusalem District) pointed out that state funding and federal funding had all decreased. “We’re not the enemy. We’re doing our best,” he said.

Supervisor Bruce Phillips (Capron District) said he too gave his salary back last year and would do so again and ask that it go into the school budget. He said in looking toward economic growth, “We can’t continue to raise taxes – businesses won’t come.” He said the school buses were included in the budget and that in looking toward the future, “it was a process” that must be gone through.

Chairman Dallas Jones wrapped up the hearing saying, “We’ve come a long way – give us a chance. We have businesses that will come and we’ll get revenue. When we do we’ll put it in the schools.”

The board will next meet May 28 and will consider adopting a budget at that time.