There were groans from all corners of the county on Wednesday as readers of this newspaper learned of the apparent disparity in the way the six public high schools are receiving funding for athletics.
But a report that was presented to the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County on Tuesday by Jason Suggs, the system’s athletics director, while suggesting an imbalance that needs to be kept in perspective, could become the best thing to happen to the high schools that are trailing in this competition.
The report showed that Lumberton High, having received $1,232,665 since 2008, was far ahead of all others, with Purnell Swett High a distant second at $448,944, followed by St. Pauls High with $161,525, Fairmont High with $160,424, South Robeson High with $120,200 and Red Springs High with $92,706.41.
Suggs was summoned to provide the report after three members of the school board during its April meeting voted against providing $200,000 to Lumberton High to fix up a dilapidated and hazardous weight room. Gary Strickland, Bosco Locklear and Jo Ann Lowery opposed the allocation while expressing concerns that similar needs at the other five high schools were not being met. Although the three were outvoted, they have spotlighted an issue that needs to be examined and perhaps rectified.
It is easy to defend the additional dollars by pointing out Lumberton is by far the county’s largest high school with about 2,100 students, followed by Purnell Swett at about 1,700, St. Pauls at 900, Red Springs at 750, Fairmont at 680 and South Robeson at 460. But Suggs also provided funding per-capita numbers and the disparity remained.
There are other variables, including the amount of taxes paid by Lumberton taxpayers when compared with other towns, the number of sports at the high school, and how well each of the high schools is represented on the school board.
But the problem isn’t that Lumberton High is receiving too much funding, but that the other high schools have lingering needs that are not being bet. The plea should not be less for Lumberton High but for more at the other five high schools.
We understand ours is a poor county and our school system struggles to meet basic educational needs, but a single penny on the tax rate raises $600,000 — which is more money than four of the high schools received combined for athletic needs since 2008.
This examination should lead to a full assessment of athletic needs both in the short and long terms at all the high schools. They should then be prioritized and checked off the list as funding is available following a formula that ensures fairness.
Young people who attend the smaller high schools in this county don’t deserve less when they put on a uniform simply because of their home address.