01/26/18 — Commissioner suggests alternative to spending $5 million for class size mandate

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Commissioner suggests alternative to spending $5 million for class size mandate

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 26, 2018 5:50 AM

The expense of meeting the state's new classroom-size mandate for elementary schools is a cloud hanging over the county, Wayne County Commissioner Joe Daughtery said.

And during the board's Thursday budget planning retreat Daughtery suggested it would cheaper for the county to simply pay a penalty than come up with $5 million to meet the requirement.

Former county manager George Wood has estimated the county would need to hire 50 new teachers. That cost, along with the expense of building a new school and its operating cost would be about $4.1 million during the first year.

"We need to resolve that (expense) because it is kind of hard to plan if you have got a $5 million cloud hanging over you," Daughtery said. "I mean you don't know how you are going to come up with the $5 million to fill the requirement."

State Sen. Don Davis was at the meeting earlier in the morning to talk about the mandate and low-wealth funding, but had left before Daughtery made his comments.

Daughtery said he had wanted to discuss that issue, but without Davis being in the room.

"I think that we all have to be aware that we don't have a $5 million problem, we have a $200,000 problem," he said. "The reason that I say we have a $200,000 problem is that as we have already found in the law the penalty for not being able to fulfill the additional classrooms and the additional teachers and the class size reduction -- the penalty for that is that the state will not fund the (schools) superintendent's salary here in Wayne County.

"That is the only penalty. So it is not a $5 million problem, it is a $200,000 problem in that if we are not able to fulfill this, and there are not any remedies that come up from the legislature, and this law remains in effect, then we would have to pick up the cost of the superintendent's salary as a penalty for not fulfilling that."

Daughtery said the reason he brought the issue up was because he did not want commissioners to feel they are hampered in moving the county forward because of a $5 million cloud over their heads.

It should not affect being able to move the county forward, he said.

Commissioner Ed Cromartie said he did not disagree, but worried about any "collateral damage" the county could incur by deciding it could cure its problem by simply paying the superintendent's salary.

Cromartie, a retired educator, said that based on his experience with Raleigh and the state Department of Public Instruction some factors will kick in if that is the route the county takes.

"Before we consider that someone needs to do some research to see what the side effects would be because for any action there is a reaction," Cromartie said. "So let's be careful on that."

Also, earlier in the meeting commissioners had suggested adopting a resolution to be sent to state lawmakers pointing out the mandate's economic toll on the county.

Cromartie supported the resolution, but suggested that letters be sent to legislators as well.

"Sometimes silence is a form of consent," he said.