Pitt County commissioners approved next fiscal year's budget on Tuesday evening despite requests from educators and parents for more public school funding.
About a quarter of the county's roughly $235 million budget goes to education, with public schools receiving a little more than $40.5 million. That's about $500,000 more than what the district received last year, but it still falls short of the school board's roughly $4 million request.
Before the budget passed, educators and parents expressed the need for more funding to avoid staff cuts and to pay for school safety improvements. Kylene Dibble, who leads Pitt County's Parents for Public Schools, called on county lawmakers to fully fund the district's budget request.
"I attend every board of education meeting. I've heard them talk about measures they've taken to tighten the budget. And I know that there are few places left to make cuts," Dibble said. "That makes me worry that the places left to make cuts are people - staff, individuals who are part of my team to keep my children, your children, your neighbor's children safe."
Due to changes in the state lawmaker's final budget, the school district is facing a $690,000 budget shortfall, said Ethan Lenker, the district's superintendent.
"They did change the retirement aspect. For us, that was the $138,000 increase in fixed costs numbers that we would have. So, that actually puts us about $690,000 short in our original request," Lenker said.
Speaking on school safety, Lenker told county lawmakers it would cost about $2 million to put law enforcement in every school. He suggested the county take advantage of a recently passed state grant program that matches local dollars to pay for school resource officers.
"If the county commissioners give us one dollar, then the state will give us two. If we have 400,000 dollars, then that will give us 1.2 million," Lenker said. "That's one way to help fund some of these things."
Soon after the Parkland, Fla. school shooting, county commissioners agreed to allocate almost $1 million in the budget to secure entryways in dozens of schools.
The county budget passed 6-2, with one commissioner absent. Commissioner Tom Coulson (Dist. B) was one of two county lawmakers who voted against the spending measure. He told his fellow commissioners he couldn't support the plan without more funding for school safety improvements, which he suggested could be taken from the county's $21 million available fund balance.
“Even though we’ve tried to step up and do more, I do not believe it is sufficient," Coulson said. "If something happens in this county, I do not want my ‘yes’ vote trying to be explained away that 'Gee, I wanted to have a bigger fund balance.'"