Unlike their last joint budget meeting, this week’s meeting of the Scotland County Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education was brief and friendly.
The two boards met for less than a half hour Thursday to discuss the school system’s capital projects request, which was presented last month at $515,000 – a little more than $300,000 short of what has been tentatively budgeted by the county.
During a joint meeting last year, the two boards met for several hours, engaging in an occasionally heated dialogue about the 2012-13 budget, which included a similar capital request discrepancy.
“I wasn’t on the board at the time, but I attended that meeting and there seemed to be a lot of tension between the two groups,” said Commissioner Whit Gibson.
On Thursday that tension was forgotten, as school system Finance Officer Jay Toland presented a new version of the school system’s capital request that was reconciled to fit the $198,000 in capital funds proposed by the county.
Gibson gave credit for the change in atmosphere to work done by school system and county staff members and to the chairmen of the two boards.
“Both (Chairman Guy McCook and Chairman Charles Brown) and the staffs have taken it on as a task to improve the communication and cooperation between the two boards and I think it has been a very positive thing,” Gibson said.
As presented by Toland, the school system’s capital projects budget would include perimeter security walls at area schools, while excluding several other big ticket items.
Among the previously budgeted projects excised were a roof repair project at Washington Park School ($43,000), a teacher parking lot at Covington Street School ($40,000), a new phone system at Spring Hill Middle School ($25,000) and asbestos abatement at I. Ellis Johnson Elementary School ($46,000).
“It has been the pleasure of the school board to say that the school connectors are the first priority,” Toland said during his presentation.
Toland added that the school system also benefited financially from decreased average daily enrollment at its schools.
“Since we had shrinking (enrollment) we didn’t really have to purchase things like new desks that you would have to if we were growing, so in that way we saved money without hurting anyone,” Toland said.
While saying that he respected the financial constraints of the county, Superintendent Rick Stout warned that the continued delay of projects like the Washington Park roof repair could cause larger, more expensive problems in the future.
“We’ve put a lot of things off to next year because the school board did decide that the connectors were the number one priority … and since we were working with $198,000 we put off the Washington Park roof, which we know is a need – we have done as much diligence as we could to take your number and match it, but our fear is that there could be a snowball effect.
“Sooner or later it’s going to catch up to you and we’ll all be facing the same situation, trying to find revenue,” Stout said.
School Board Chairman Charles Brown expressed a similar concern, but said that he was hopeful the economy would soon rebound.
“I don’t expect this economic climate will continue. I’m optimistic that more funding will be forthcoming from our state as things get worked out and as people come to realize that education is still a first priority for our state,” Brown said.
Like Gibson, Brown credited the straightforward and cordial nature of the meeting to the work of staff and to his meetings with McCook.
“Our meetings prior to this, with (McCook and county and school system staff) allowed us to get to know each other and put everything on the table in a friendly atmosphere. That really laid the groundwork for today,” Brown said.
Brown, McCook, Stout, Toland and County Manager Kevin Patterson and Finance Officer Charles Nichols met twice to discuss their shared budget concerns in recent months.
In agreement with Brown, McCook said that the successful meeting was the result of “a coordinated effort between the schools and the county to help us meet the goals we have.”