by Dr. Terry Stoops
Former Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
WECT reports that Columbus County commissioners approved a plan to give Columbus County Schools $500,000 to relieve some of the district’s debt burden. Whiteville City Schools will receive $200,000 due to a state law that requires city districts to receive comparable per-student funding to county systems.
In April, WECT reported,
It’s a major budget shortage that school leaders said is affecting students and faculty.
Columbus County Schools doesn’t have enough money to keep up with its spending.
According to the school’s finance officer, Terry Dudney, if major changes are made, the school system could be almost half a million dollars over budget.
Dudney said there are many reasons for the shortcomings, mainly a decrease in local, state and federal money over the past decade.*
Instructional staff’s supplements salaries increased by five percent starting in the 2015-16 school year to be comparable to Whiteville City Schools. This is based on an annual salary in November of each year, Dudney said.
The school system has also had trouble keeping up payments for its exceptional children program. The state allots about 800 students for the program, and Columbus County has about 870. Even though the county has more than the cap, Dudney said the county doesn’t get any more money, so it has to provide money for all of the services with its own money.
So, has there been “a decrease in local, state and federal money over the past decade?” Hell, no.
In 2007, Columbus County Schools spent $8,308 per student. In 2017, the district spent $9,911 per student. Likewise, Whiteville City Schools spent $8,411 per student in 2007 and $9,826 per student in 2017. State and federal funding have increased in both districts, while local funding has been stagnant.
Columbus County Schools has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. By approving a bailout, the Columbus County commissioners addressed the symptoms, not the cause.
* Consider how elected officials would respond to the same argument coming from a charter school. They would tell the charter to fix it themselves or risk revocation of their charter.