School board offers compromise for teacher assistant funding

System wins accounting award in an emotional night

by Josh Lanier

In an effort to save teacher assistant positions, the school board offered up a compromise to the county at its Tuesday, June 5, meeting.

If the county funds the $16.3 million funding increase request, the school system would rescind the layoff notices handed out to more then 350 teacher assistants. If that money doesn’t come through, those positions will be eliminated.

The school system had originally planned to give each school a portion of the $6.7 million needed to save the teacher assistants and allow them to decide what to do with it. That could have meant hiring more teachers or rehiring teacher assistants.

County commissioners have cited that as a sticking point in negotiations. They want a guarantee from the school system the money would only go to teacher assistants.

“They haven’t given us a guarantee that any of the TAs would be rehired,” said Union County Commissioner Todd Johnson at Monday’s county board meeting.

Board of Education Vice Chairman John Collins said the compromise was a smart move politically, but he would have rather stuck with the school board’s original plan.

“Let’s say we get this money; that’s great and we’ve saved the jobs of some very hard working and smart people. But it doesn’t move us forward at all. It keeps us where we are now,” he said. “Giving that money to the schools to decide what they need could have really made some major improvements – taking us to a new level.”

Accounting awards and audits

Union County Schools requested last month $16.3 million in additional county funding to cover a $9.6 million budget shortfall in state and federal funding and help make up for years of flat funding from the county.

Union County Manager Cindy Coto increased the school system’s operating and capital funding in her most recent 2012-13 budget but did not include the $6.7 million requested for the teacher assistants.

But as part of the county’s budget-making process, the county board hired an auditing firm to go over the school system’s financials. Coto said this was meant not as an insult but as a way for the county to better understand the needs of the school system.

School board officials have said all along they’ve been good stewards of tax payers’ money and the audit was unnecessary.

In a short ceremony at Tuesday’s meeting, Union County Public Schools’ Chief Financial Officer Dan Karpinski and his staff were awarded the Excellence in Financial Accounting award from the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada. This is the 10th consecutive year the school system has been given the award.

The county-issued audit is expected to be completed later this month and cost no more than $35,000.

Tearful goodbyes

Tuesday’s meeting was the last of the school year and the last for a number of high-ranking school officials.

Superintendent Ed Davis, who has worked in Union County schools for more than 30 years and as superintendent for seven, is retiring at the end of the month. Mary Ellis has been chosen as his replacement. The board finalized her contract at the meeting.

Davis thanked his staff and said he hoped he had served the county well.

“I don’t think I can thank everyone who’s helped me over the years by name or who has meant so much to me while I’ve worked here because we’d be here all night,” he said.

Shortly after ending his speech Board of Education Chairman Dean Arp also resigned. Arp recently won the Republican primary for the N.C. House District 69. He wanted to step down now so voters could choose his District 5 replacement in November. The board will likely hold a special session later this month to vote who will become chairman in his absence.

Arp choked up as he read his resignation letter aloud. He thanked the teachers who taught his two children when they attended Union County Schools. He thanked the board members he’s served with in his nine years on the board, and he thanked the parents who were willing to volunteer their time to help.

At the end of his speech, Vice Chairman Collins stood up and walked over to Arp.

“Well, you know I have to get a hug from you now,” he said.

Arp couldn’t be reached for an interview before Union County Weekly’s press deadline, but Collins said Arp’s absence would be felt immediately.

“There are few men like Dean Arp,” he said. “He’s a good man, he cares so much about this school system and this community and he’s just an all-around great guy. And I truly meant it when I said there would be a big hole on our board now.”

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