School board meets, gets update on state budget progress

ELIZABETHTOWN — The Bladen County Board of Education was presented information regarding the state’s proposed budget for 2015-16, but did not take any action on its own budget.

According to Bladen County Schools public Relations Director Valerie Newton, Finance Officer Sharon Penny told the board that the N.C. Department of Public Instruction “has indicated that they are not expecting an approved state budget until possibly as late as August. A continuation budget will need to be adopted for July and August or until a state approve budget is released.”

Newton said the continuation budget allows NCDPI to “operate for the number of months or however long it takes for the state to adopt a budget.”

Newton said that, although the General Assembly has not yet adopted a budget, there is some idea what the education piece will look like.

“They (NCDPI) have conversations and talk with officials and they have a feeling for what it may look like,” said Newton of the proposed budget.

Also, Superintendent Robert Taylor told the board that the Bladen County Board of Commissioners had appropriated $6.4 million at their June 22 meeting. The Commissioners had earlier proposed appropriating $6.6 million to the school district.

“This is the same amount we had last year. We are operating with the same budget as last year,” said Newton.

The Board of Education has been battling a budget shortfall in the 2014-15 budget and has received sharp criticism from the county’s Board of Commissioners.

The Board of Education met with the Bladen County Board of Commissioners in May and requested that up to $495,000 from the fund balance of the school district’s Capital Outlay Fund to the school district’s current Expense Fund to balance the budget for fiscal year 2014-15.

The school district was facing a $350,000 shortfall in the current expense budget. The initial request was rejected by the commissioners.

The county commissioners and Board of Education members held a couple of joint meetings to discuss the shortfall and the immediate needs of the school district. Bladen County Commissioner Chairman Charles Ray Peterson pointed out that, according to the North Carolina General Statutes, the school board does not have the authority to move funds from the Capital Outlay Fund unless it is an emergency or something unforeseen occurs.

After several contentious meetings, commissioners voted to approve $350,000 from the county’s General Fund to meet the shortfall.

The Board of Education has scheduled a budget and planning retreat on Tuesday, July 7, beginning at 3 p.m. at the district office located on U.S. 701 South in Elizabethtown.

Erin Smith can be reached at 910-862-4163.