A bigger rainy day fund for the schools

January 16, 2013 

The Wake County school board and the county commissioners have battled regularly over the years about the system’s maintenance of a “rainy day fund” that has been used to cover emergencies and to prevent layoffs. The tensions are greater when, as is now the case, the school board is dominated by Democrats and the commissioners by Republicans.

The system wants its board to allow it to keep more money in the fund rather than return it to the county. In a time when funding from the General Assembly is uncertain, that seems prudent.

And it’s preferable to having the schools return all unspent money to the county, as some county commissioners would prefer. That sounds like more of a control issue than it does a management one.

School officials, whose board controls the fund and makes the rules as far as how much the schools keep and how much they’ll return to the county, have concerns about having to go to commissioners to provide extra resources whenever needed. That could provoke a politically charged debate every time it happened, because some Republican commissioners, including Paul Coble and Tony Gurley, have been critical of school operations.

There now is $32 million in reserve. It seems like a lot, but it could all go quickly if GOP legislative leaders cut education funding. Last year, the system spent $28 million from the reserve fund to avoid layoffs and to balance the books.

It’s not as if school officials or the board is trying to hide the money involved. This is a public school system. Where the money goes is entirely public knowledge.

We’ve no hope that commissioners and school board members will make a permanent peace. But on this issue, the schools should keep what their board determines to be fair, and a truce should follow.

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