School board at odds with HB 508

Bill aims to ‘increase transparency and accountability in local education funding’

By ELIOT DUKE
Of the Record staff
Posted 4/23/21

The Harnett County Schools Board of Education spoke out against a new bill co-sponsored by Rep. Howard Penny (R-Harnett).

If passed, House Bill 508 would require school boards to seek specific funding from …

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School board at odds with HB 508

Bill aims to ‘increase transparency and accountability in local education funding’

Posted

The Harnett County Schools Board of Education spoke out against a new bill co-sponsored by Rep. Howard Penny (R-Harnett).

If passed, House Bill 508 would require school boards to seek specific funding from county commissioners, who then would have power to dictate which schools received the money for what purpose.

“Rep. Penny co-sponsored legislation that does have a negative impact on the board and the operation of Harnett County Schools,” HCS Superintendent Aaron Fleming said. “Bill 508 would require the BOE to request funding from the county commissioners by line item down to the actual school location. Any budget amendments this board approves would have to be approved by commissioners if it exceeds certain thresholds.”

A key provision outlined in the bill states “the uniform budget format shall include space for local school administrative units to provide information on expenditures from local funds, including personnel and operating expenses of individual schools, by program report code and object code.”

Fleming said the bill only complicates the budget process as numerous agencies such as the N.C. School Boards Association and the N.C. School Superintendents' Association also oppose the proposal.

“It will require school boards to constantly seek permission from the county commissioners for routine movement of funds and will strip LEAs from being nimble and responsive to the needs of their students,” said Fleming. “The bill also creates an unrealistic 30-day year-end audit requirement without allowing schools time to close out books. This bill will not assist in building relationships with school boards and county commissioners.”

Board Chairman Eddie Jaggers recommended adopting a resolution opposing the bill and took particular exception with its opening line, which said the legislation is “an act to increase transparency and accountability in local education funding.”

“I don’t know how we can be any more transparent and accountable than what we are,” Jaggers said. “This bill is not a help to us at all. It’s more of a hindrance.”

Board member Don Godfrey said the bill is more about control.

“To me, this bill is just to take everything away from the school board and give it to the county commissioners,” said Godfrey. “If we’re going to do that, we have no need for a school board. The county commissioners are going to have everything. I definitely oppose this bill. You would think Mr. Penny would have bigger fish to fry.”

Fleming said the bill is nowhere near law at the moment and is receiving little fanfare amongst people even aware of it.

“The house bill only has three sponsors,” Fleming said. “In checking with our board chair, our chairman of the county commissioners, the other two Harnett County representatives and our state senator, no one was asked, requested or informed about this legislation. It does bother us that our representative felt the need to do this.”

House Bill 508 also would require the Board of Education to submit written academic performance reviews of its schools to county commissioners, including “any schools identified as low-performing or continually low-performing or included on the Innovative School District qualifying, watch, or warning list, and efforts by the local board of education to improve those identified schools’ performance.”

Penny said he recently met with representatives of the North Carolina School Superintendents' Association and the state School Boards Association, and called the meeting “productive.”

“All parties were in agreement to work together to address these concerns,” said Penny. “Like many bills in legislature, the original bill sees many changes before it makes it to the floor for a vote or if it makes it to the floor for a vote.”

Eliot Duke can be reached at eduke@mydailyrecord.com or at 910-230-2038.

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