School leaders: 'Don't pin tax hike on us'

Board scraps school safety request
By Jessi Stone Assistant editor | May 15, 2013

The Haywood County Board of Education reluctantly withdrew its budget proposal to the county Monday night that requested additional funds to improve school safety.

The board requested $421,000 to hire four school resource officers and four guidance counselors and $410,000 to install new security upgrades. While board members agreed the safety of students was of the utmost importance, they voiced opposition to increasing taxes to pay for the proposed safety measures.

School board members and commissioners met May 9 to discuss the school board’s budget proposal. Commissioners have suggested that school resource officers should be in all schools, not just a select few. The schools currently have five SROs and would have to spend $1.7 million to place one in the other 11 schools.

Board of Education Chairman Chuck Francis said the commissioners made it clear that revenue was stagnant and a property tax increase would be the only way to pay for the request. He said the county wanted the board of education to decide whether to move forward with the request or to change its funding priorities.

School board member Bob Morris thanked the school administration for acting quickly to improve school safety after the Sandy Hook shootings. However, he wants more research done on what other counties are doing to combat the problem. He would like to know if SROs in other counties are paid for by the county or by the school system and if other counties are implementing a new tax to pay for them.

“I am not in favor of tax increase,” he said.

School board member Steven Kirkpatrick agreed with Morris. He said he would not support the proposed budget if it would cause commissioners to raise taxes.

“As a board of education, we don’t set tax rates on anything, and I’m firmly against a property tax increase for people in the county,” he said.  “As a taxpayer, I don’t think it’s a revenue problem as much as it is a spending problem.”

Board member Larry Harbin was also against a tax increase and wasn’t sure if more officers would prevent such tragedies. He said counselors at the elementary schools might be a better solution to help children with mental problems before something happens.

“If we can reach those kids when they’re young, we can stop a trend,” he said.

Board member Lynn Milner agreed, stating, “As a former principal, it wasn’t an officer that stopped things from happening in school — it was the counselors that students trusted to tell things to.”

Board member Jimmy Rogers said he would love to have officers in every school but said more studying needed to be done.

“I’m very impressed with the (safety) recommendations, but I don’t want to see our county taxpayers pay more money just for that purpose,” he said.

Superintendent of Schools Anne Garrett went over what the administration had done to study the safety issues and explained what each agency’s recommendations were. Recommendations included more officers, counselors, secured doors at the schools, more training, and ID badges for all staff.

Board member Rhonda Schandevel said she didn’t understand why commissioners asked the board of education to decide whether to increase taxes.

“I was blindsided,” she said. “I’ve never seen it done this way during the budget process.”

Francis said he had been on the board for 13 years and had never experienced a budget process like this before. Usually the board makes its request and the commissioners either approve it or deny it if they don’t have the money.

“They’ve made it clear there is no money in their coffers for any increase,” Francis said.

Kirkpatrick said the county was trying to put the blame on the board of education for increasing taxes.

“They’re trying to pin us to the wall saying this is how its going to be,” he said.

Given the commissioners’ stance on funding, Kirkpatrick made a motion to amend the budget proposal to the county and remove the additional funding for school resource officers, counselors and facility improvements. His motion passed 6-2 with Schandevel and Rogers opposing.

“If we don’t fund what we need now, we’re going to pay for it in 20 years,” Schandevel said.