$6.3 million bump for school seems doable

When the Robeson County Board of Commissioners begins discussing funding for the Public Schools of Robeson County for the fiscal year that arrives July 1, let’s all hope that its members don’t take an all-or-nothing approach to the system’s request.

If that happens, it will be nothing. All isn’t happening

Last week, for reasons that we don’t fully understand, the Board of Education voted to ask the commissioners for additional funding in the amount of more than $17 million. That, when added to the $12.4 million the schools received this year, represents an increase of about 140 percent to a total of $30 million.

Perhaps the school board is simply posturing, calculating that it will aim high, and settle for less. But County Manager Ricky Harris likely preferred a more realistic request — and there is always the risk that the commissioners will be retalitory. It is a vengeful bunch that controls that board.

Let’s get this out of the way: The commissioners could surrender all of their salaries, stipends and benefits, dissolve their discretionary funds, and steer all the savings to the school system, and it wouldn’t add up to enough to make a big difference. It would be a nice gesture, but we know that isn’t happening.

The Board of Education is exactly right to ask for more money, and not doing so would be a dereliction of their sworn duty. As we have often noted, the county’s per-pupil funding of the local system is second to last in the state and, in two words, shameful and embarrassing. We are getting what we pay for.

We understand the constraints on the commissioners, who are stymied with a depressed and stagnant tax base and the resulting high tax rate, but they can do more. The elephant in the corner is the strained relationship between the commissioners and the school board, retreating to 2016 when the county was trying to help build new schools but the school board was disinterested, and continuing with the recent Angel Exchange nonsense.

Let’s look harder at the $17 million request, which would be used to better pay teachers, buy textbooks and supplies, fix and build new schools, all of which everyone should support. What people must realize is that almost all of those 77 cents on the tax rate are earmarked, and there is much less waste than generally believed.

To increase school funding by $17 million would require a tax increase in the neighborhood of 30 cents or so, making us the highest taxed county in the state, killing any hope of new industry or professional people coming to the county, and adding $300 a year in taxes for the owner of a $100,000 home. Everyone is in favor of more money for the schools until they are asked to dig deep to pay for it.

We believe that there is momentum with the county to try to provide additional funding for the Public Schools of Robeson County, because we have heard that sentiment in private conversations with those who have the power to make it happen. At the end of the day, any increase in funding is most likely to be arbitrary, but we will suggest a figure that is not arbitrary.

How about an increase of $6.3 million, and increase of about 50 percent? The commissioners in their effort to buy Angel Exchange indicated that amount of money could be found for that purchase without any pain to the taxpayers.

We are sure the Public Schools of Robeson County, even though much more was requested, would take that happily and find good use for it.

The ball is in the commissioners’ court.