A lot of people talk of the Scotland “School Floor”. Few fully understand it.
As mayor of Laurinburg, the city that is home to the high school, the Early College,board of education building, one middle school and three elementary schools, many of the students and school personnel. The city also provides security and utilities for these schools. I hope that no one thinks the school floor is not a mayoral issue.
As most know, The “school floor” came into being in the early 1960’s when the separate Scotland County school system and Laurinburg school system combined into one unified system.
There were many reasons for combining into one county-wide system. The driving force behind unification was the county, not the city.
The student population outside Laurinburg was falling while the Laurinburg student population was growing, due to demographic shifts that continue to this day. Education was getting more expensive with each year. Those facts, combined with the greater wealth of the city, was making it hard for the county to keep up with expenses. At the same time, improvements in transportation, desegregation, and the state wanting more standardization, it made sense to have one county school system, centered in Laurinburg. Unification of county and city schools into one school system was not a Scotland County thing, it was happening throughout the state in the 1960’s.
In fact, Richmond County unified their city and county systems into one school district the same year Scotland did. But what was unique to Scotland County’s unification plan was the passing of a school funding law, which has become known as the school floor.
The school floor funding law came into being because citizens of Laurinburg were concerned that the County Commissioners would not want to fund the schools as highly as Laurinburg was funding the city’s school system. At that time (and perhaps even today), Laurinburg residents were, on average, wealthier and better educated than their Scotland County counterparts.
Consequently, in the early 1960’s, Laurinburg was funding education higher than the county, on a per pupil basis. Laurinburg residents therefore were concerned about giving up control of their schools to the county, which they feared might not fund the schools adequately.
If the truth be known, in the early 1960’s, both Laurinburg and the Scotland County school systems were providing local funding to the schools lower than the average school system in the state; Laurinburg was giving $38 per student, the County $35 per student, while the state local funding average was $41 per student (now, the local funding average is approximately $1,600 per student, or 40 times higher.)
This is where the school floor comes in. In order for Laurinburg to give up control of their school system to the county, they insisted that Scotand’s local school funding would be no lower than the average level of local funding among the other 99 counties. That each year, the average amount each county was giving their school system per pupil from local property taxes would be computed and whatever this average was, Scotland County’s could be no less(this amount was the ‘the floor’, or the lowest it could be). Laurinburg was wary that in the future, if times got hard and county money scarce, that this school funding formula would be violated by the commissioners. So they insisted it be made a law, passed by the General Assembly in Raleigh, to prevent any local meddling in the future.
Unfortunately, I am nearing my allotted word limit so I will have to stop here. Part 2 of this promises to be more interesting, I hope. I will discuss why the authors of the school floor could not have known the changes in school funding over the last half century, such as Federal funding introduced in the late 1960’s and the Leandro lawsuit that led to the ‘Low Wealth Funding Formula’ earlier this century.
And, most importantly, how the rise in the cost of education has far outstripped the rise in property values in rural areas with the result being that the school floor forces us to have a very high tax rate.
How this fact forced an amendment by the General Assembly, lowering the school floor tax in 2003. I will also give an opinion on why the school floor is still useful but needs gradual further adjustment, and why it is unlikely to ever go away. But, most importantly, I will explain why I believe the current school administration and school board’s school consolidation plan takes unfair advantage of what was once a noble and community-supported commitment to our children’s education, this school floor, and hijacks it for their shortsighted and community-unsupported personal agendas.
Matthew Block serves as mayor of Laurinburg. He writes a bi-weekly column on the city and municipal issues.