BY KARISSA MILLER

Iredell County commissioners reviewed the education portion of the county’s proposed $236.1 million budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year on Monday.

The board met at the East Lions Club community center building for a half-day work session.

During the meeting, Iredell-Statesville Schools Superintendent Jeff James gave a presentation explaining the need for adequate funding for public education — calling it an investment in our students and community.

The superintendent outlined the following as strategic focus areas:

• Eliminate opportunity gaps;
• Impro school and district performance; and
• Increase education preparedness to meet the needs of every student

James discussed trends and data to show commissioners where the school system is as a whole. He also spoke about teachers and the difficulty the district has recruiting teachers, bus drivers and other staff positions.

According to the 2019-2020 data, I-SS graduation rate is 89.1 percent, which is above the state of 87.6 percent.

The I-SS dropout rate is down to 1.22 percent. The state average is 1.53 percent. However, James said he is concerned that about 45 percent of seniors have “disappeared.”

The total enrollment in the district’s choice programs is as follows:

• Elementary: 4,909
• Secondary: 2,533
• Total Membership: 7,422 (37 percent)

James said the education facilities task force has identified the upcoming expenditures for the capital projects for the schools. The projects include work on building at Harmony Elementary, building extra classrooms and a gym at Lake Norman Elementary School and finishing up construction work at Statesville High School.

Capital expenditures can only be used for new construction and maintaining buildings and facilities. They may not be used for operating expenses such as paying teacher salaries.

He estimates that the new high school will cost around $100 million rather than $80 million, the original estimated cost.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction is projecting I-SS enrollment will decrease by 655 students. However, coming out of the pandemic, the district isn’t sure how accurate that number will be and if it will be as much as projected.

Mooresville Graded School District is projected to see a decrease of 140 students.

The per pupil funding from the county will increase to $1,967, up from $1,940 during the current year.

However, County Manager Beth Mull said that if the number of students is greater than projected by DPI, the county will go back and adjust the funding for all school systems.

• Iredell-Statesville Schools will receive $44.7 million, down from $45.3 million;
• Mooresville Graded School District will receive $13 million, down from $13.1; and
• Mitchell Community College will receive $4.1 million, down from $4.2 million 

According to Mull, this fiscal year will be the final year of the School Safety and Security funding. This revenue stream that was created in 2020 after the quarter cent sales tax referendum failed.

Mull explained that the county continued to allocate a half cent of Ad Valorem taxes to complete the remaining capital needs for the school safety and security identified for I-SS, MGSD and Mitchell Community College, which totaled more than $1 million.

Total financial allocations towards education in the three education systems makes up 42.82 percent of the county’s general fund budget.

Final Thoughts

County commissioners discussed the need for the school board to get the capital projects online as quickly as possible.

Chairman James Mallory explained that the county can’t sell the bonds until the bids are in hand, and that it’s important that they start to build their buildings as the cost of construction is continuing to increase.

To ensure the school board and commissioners are on the same page, Commissioner Gene Houpe recommended sending a letter to the school board explaining the negative impact on the county’s debt load.

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