ELIZABETHTOWN — Education took center stage on Monday, as both Bladen Community College and Bladen County Schools presented their budget requests before the Bladen County commissioners.
Bladen County Schools Superintendent Robert Taylor’s presentation brought the most scrutiny, as commissioners aimed several pointed questions on a variety of issues.
Taylor presented a budget for the 2018-19 school year totaling $8.4 million, which is nearly $1 million more than the current school year.
“Why are we asking for substantially more money? It’s because of all the increases expected in areas like health insurance, utilities, salaries, etc,” Taylor explained.
Bladen County Schools is expecting to make a payment to area charter schools of $942,000 for an estimated 298 students who will leave the public school system. But Taylor said those students — as well as those who have already moved on to charter schools, bringing the total to 550 — remain “the responsibility of the county.”
Commissioners asked about the closing of Booker T. Washington, which will take place at the end of the current schools year. Taylor said the school district plans to utilize the building as a professional development training center. He also said there would be cost savings there because of reduced utility, transportation and staff salary costs.
“Right now we don’t have a training facility since losing the Paul R. Brown building, so this is a real need for us,” Taylor added.
He continued with a list of accomplishments realized by the school district over the past year, including the fact there are no “F schools” in the district, and gave the commissioners praise for their support.
“We’re doing tremendous work district wide and a lot of that is due to the support we receive from the county,” Taylor said.
County Chairman Ray Britt asked Taylor why the state is cutting back on funding for the Central Office, and Taylor said the reason was simple.
“Because it’s the easiest cut they can make without getting push-back from the community,” he said. “They will cut Central Office funding 5 percent this year and 9 percent next year.”
“If it’s so easy for the state, why isn’t it as easy for the local district?” asked Commissioner Charles Ray Peterson.
“There used to be 50 Central Office employees, and now we’re down to 34,” Taylor responded. “But all the same work still has to be done.”
Commissioners also questioned Taylor about the Early College funding, as well as about $502,000 in set-aside escrow money for capital improvements over two years that the school district wants back.
Also on Monday, the board heard from BCC President William Findt, who presented his last budget before retiring at the end of the year.
That budget calls for a requested increase in county assistance from $1.37 million to $2.08 million. According to Findt, the school will see a 3-percent overall increase in the area of salaries, plant operations and plant maintenance — growing from $964,495 to $989,963.
Findt also presented a list of accomplishments realized by BCC over the past year, and also stated the school’s enrollment has remained stable over the past few years — but that a few of the programs, like allied health and welding, are getting stronger.
Both of the budget requests were informational only, and no action was taken.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.