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Columbus Co. commissioners approve giving school system money to get out of debt

Columbus County commissioners ask Board of Education Chairwoman Barbara Yates-Lockamy questions...
Columbus County commissioners ask Board of Education Chairwoman Barbara Yates-Lockamy questions Monday night. (Source: WECT)
Published: Aug. 20, 2018 at 8:39 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 21, 2018 at 1:01 AM EDT
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COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WECT) - The Columbus County School System got the money school leaders asked county commissioners for to help the system get out of debt, but because of a North Carolina state statute, Whiteville City Schools got money too.

Commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to give Columbus County Schools $500,000. The statute says if a county has two school systems, which Columbus does, when one is awarded money, the other has to be given an equal amount based on the number of students in the school system, or per-pupil spending.

This equals out to about $200,000 for Whiteville City Schools.

The school systems will get this money immediately.

This comes after Columbus County Schools Superintendent Allan Faulk asked the commissioners in late July for $500,000 to get out of the red. School leaders call it a "budget crisis."

According to Faulk, school leaders have already taken "drastic steps" to reduce spending for the 2018-19 school year, most recently closing Chadbourn Middle School. He said the money will be used to cover expense overages for public utilities, bus repairs, exceptional children speech services and teaching positions.

Faulk made another "emergency request" for the money in a letter to Mike Stephens, the county manager, dated August 13.

Commissioners told Board of Education chairwoman Barbara Yates-Lockamy Monday night they weren't happy with how the board members handled everything.

According to commissioner James Prevatte, a board of education board member was quoted in the "News Reporter" as saying the commissioners "mandated" the school board close Chadbourn to cut costs. Prevatte said that wasn't true.

"I was offended by that," Prevatte told Yates-Lockamy.

Chairman of the board of commissioners Amon McKenzie seconded, saying "I took that as a slap in the face." He told Yates-Lockamy the commissioners don't have the authority to force a school to close.

The commissioners also told Yates-Lockamy they were surprised the entire board of education and superintendent weren't at the meeting to answer the commissioners' questions when discussing the money was on the agenda.

"This is not the way to do business," McKenzie said.

They ultimately decided to the school system the money school leaders asked for because the commissioners said they'll always do what's best for the children of Columbus County.

The commissioners did acknowledge what they called a difficult decision Yates-Lockamy and the school board had to make closing Chadbourn Middle School.

"I honestly feel like you've made the right choice even though it's not the popular choice," commissioner Ricky Bullard told Yates-Lockamy.

Commissioner Buddy Byrd, however, asked Yates-Lockamy why the board didn't move the students at Chadbourn Middle to Chadbourn Elementary instead of to Evergreen Elementary. She said Evergreen has more resources and less crowded classes.

McKenzie recommended the school system monitor the students being moved from Chadbourn to make sure they transition ok emotionally because he said the decision to move them was made "really quickly."

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