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State budget approval still looms

Polk County Schools needs $25M over next 10 years

COLUMBUS—The new fiscal year began July 1 and the state has yet to pass the 2019-2020 budget. 

The North Carolina General Assembly approved a budget and Governor Roy Cooper vetoed their proposal late June. 

State legislators as of Thursday was planning to pause the session as they could not get enough votes to override the governor’s veto. 

Part of the proposed budget passed by the House and Senate and vetoed by the governor is for Polk County Schools to receive over $10 million for capital needs over the next decade through a tiered system. 

Polk County Schools has over $25 million in capital needs over the next 10 years, according to the school system’s facilities plan. 

One of Cooper’s main reasons for vetoing the budget was the lack of Medicaid expansion so more families qualify, but another is that he pushed for putting a $1.9 billion bond proposal for voters during the 2020 election to help address what has been estimated at $8 billion in school funding needs across the state. 

The approved budget by legislators adds money to an existing infrastructure account, which puts $4.4 billion for school construction needs over the next 10 years. Legislators say that funding the system that way would save taxpayers millions of dollars in interest, while Cooper called the proposal a “gimmick” and “slush fund” that promises projects that may never be built. 

Polk County Schools has many capital needs, several that need to be addressed immediately and several that need to be addressed in the next decade. 

As Polk County’s “new” high school is now 27 years old, Polk County funding its own capital needs is not realistic. County officials have no plans to build any new schools in the near future, but have outlined over $25 million in needs to upgrade its aged buildings. 

Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene said the county is behind on capital needs because of debt payments for the new middle school that have taken place since its construction. The county has paid off the debt and leaders are moving forward with a long-range plan to address facility needs. 

There has not been a statewide school bond since 1997. 

Some of Polk County Schools immediate needs include renovating the septic system at Polk Central, estimated at $500,000; upgrading the HVAC system at Polk County High School, estimated at $3.5 million (in stages over three years); replacing steam lines in boiler system at Saluda Elementary School, estimated at $150,000; creating a buffer at the main entrance of Saluda, Sunny View and the middle school to force all visitors to travel through the main office, estimated at $50,000 each and replacing the roof of the gym building at Sunny View Elementary School, estimated at $200,000 (see chart for total 10-year needs). 

Polk County Schools Facilities plan 2019-2019

Early College     $270,000

Polk Central   $2,445,000

High School $12,765,000

Middle School   $1,640,000

Saluda     $920,000

Sunny View   $1,320,000

Tryon   $3,910,000

Stearns     $485,000

District-wide   $2,050,000

Total: $25,805,000

“Our aging buildings and infrastructure will require substantial investment over the next decade,” Greene said. “Our goal is to maintain and improve the learning environments we provide our students and to increase the safety and longevity of our campuses.” 

Greene said the school system appreciates the continuing support of the Polk County Board of Commissioners and county manager Marche Pittman, with the school system and county officials working to arrive at a long-range plan to address the needs. 

“Any help from the North Carolina General Assembly is needed and welcomed,” he said, “and we appreciate their commitment to supporting our community schools.” 

Senator Ralph Hise, who represents Polk County, weighed in on Cooper’s veto earlier this month on what he thinks the veto will mean for Polk County Schools. 

Following is a press release sent by Senator Hise: 

Polk County Schools to Receive Over $10.5 Million in Budget Passed by General Assembly

 

Funding is for new schools or repairs/upgrades to existing schools

 

Gov. Cooper veto of budget puts funding in jeopardy

Polk County, N.C. – The 2019-21 budget that the North Carolina General Assembly passed last week includes over $10.5 million in capital funding for Polk County schools that could be used for either new schools or repairs and updates to existing schools. However, Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of the budget puts that funding in jeopardy unless the legislature is able to override his veto.

 

Senator Ralph Hise said, “If we can’t override Gov. Cooper’s veto, Polk County will miss out on an infusion of much-needed funding to update our schools. Our students deserve a modern learning environment, and this historic investment would help deliver for our county. Gov. Cooper’s decision to veto the budget for political reasons puts all of that at risk.”

 

The funding is just one piece of a $4.4 billion commitment to school capital over the next 10 years in the General Assembly’s budget. Of that total, $1.5 billion would come from the State Capital Infrastructure Fund (SCIF), which receives a dedicated, automatic appropriation from the General Assembly every year. An additional $1 billion will come from the Public School Capital Fund and $1.9 billion from the Needs-Based Capital Program.  

 

The $10,546,975 million allocation would come from the SCIF, but Polk County may also receive additional funding from the Needs-Based Capital Program or the Public School Capital Fund.

 

If Gov. Cooper’s veto is overridden, investments from these accounts to schools around the state could begin immediately, unlike a bond which would take several years. Additionally, funding from the three accounts described above is debt-free, meaning the state wouldn’t waste money on unnecessary interest payments. A bond, by contrast, would consume hundreds of millions or billions of dollars from state coffers in wasted interest payments, diverting resources away from other priorities.