RUTHERFORDTON — The Rutherford County commissioners, and the Rutherford County Board of Education held a joint meeting Monday at noon, as the Board of Education formally submitted its budget request.
The Rutherford County Schools (RCS), like other local school systems, operates on funding from the federal and state governments, as well funds directly from the county which must be approved by the county commissioners.
The Board of Education is requesting $15,724,201 for its “local current expense” budget, along with $6,306,061 for its capital needs budget (including about $2 million for technology).
The school board members and commissioners, along with some staff members, met virtually because of COVID-19 concerns. Some county commissioners met in their Rutherfordton chambers, some were in their workplaces, while the Board of Education members were at the RCS Cool Springs Administrative building.
RCS Superintendent David Sutton methodically went through the highlights of the budget during the one and a half hour meeting.
He first acknowledged the many challenges the school system has been through over the past year because of the pandemic. He noted that when the educators and commissioners met last year to discuss the budget, the state was under “stay at home” orders, schools were closed, and much of the county, and the nation were enveloped in uncertainty.
“I’m pleased to say that today, every school within our system is open under Plan A,” Sutton said. “75% of our students are participating in face-to-face learning, while about a quarter are in the school system’s remote learning program as a matter of parental discretion.”
Sutton also pointed out that the school system will be receiving close to $35 million in special funding through three funding streams from the federal government, in response to COVID-19.
“Recognizing the pandemic’s substantial financial and organizational impacts, Congress has, through three prominent pieces of federal legislation, taken definitive steps to address emergency spending needs and recovery efforts among the nation’s public schools,” Sutton said. “Rutherford County Schools is a direct beneficiary of those legislative efforts for a combined total of $34.1 million.”
Through the end of the current fiscal year (June 30, 2021), RCS will spend approximately $1.3 million from these available special funds, to address specific operational needs, officials said, principally in response to COVID-19 mitigation recommendations and requirements established for schools by the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services.
Sutton said RCS has developed a preliminary spending plan for the special funds that invests in time-limited critical services and necessary resources over the next three years.
He said they aim to deliver the robust organizational supports necessary to assist students in their academic recovery over the next two to three years.
Officials say the number of students for the upcoming school year is projected to be 66 fewer than the current number (7,615). Even so, the current expense budget request is larger than the current year (by $308,318), for several reasons including non-state funded salary and fringe benefit increases, mandates for lower class sizes, and costs for the exceptional children’s program.
The educators were asked what happens in three years, after the special pandemic-related funding is gone.
The educators said it is inevitable that while staffing will be increased for the next couple of years, as RCS works to enable students to recover academically, it is also inevitable that staffing levels will later be reduced.
“This extra funding is a temporary solution to a temporary problem,” Sutton said.
Near the close of the meeting, Bryan King, county commission chairman, pointed out that if the total local budget request is approved, (including current expense and capital outlay), that a tax increase would be necessary or a large amount about taken from the county’s fund balance.
“At this time, after a year of the pandemic, no one has the stomach for a tax increase,” he said.
King and other commissioners thanked the school leaders for their work, and dedication to the students.
“I appreciate everything you do,” King said.
FOREST CITY — At a recent meeting at the Grahamtown Community Center, Forest City Mayor Steve Holland said, “If you find one, we’ll hire one.” He was answering a question about why few Blacks, women, and other marginalized groups are employed by the Forest City Police Department.
Right now, it’s tough to recruit employees for any local government job. Phillip Bailey, Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) instructor at Isothermal Community College, said he knows of fire departments, EMT services, and even public works departments who are having a hard time finding recruits.
Why is it particularly hard to recruit Blacks and women?
Bailey said he’s not aware of any particular issues that would adversely affect the hiring of minority candidates.
“It takes a little bit of guts and gumption to do it. You can lose some people and gain some people. Everybody runs into the same issues,” Bailey said of family, friends, and the culture at large that discourages potential police officers. He said in his conversations with Black and female officers he knew of none who faced issues of discrimination.
However, Capt. Leon Godlock of the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office said there “certainly is prejudice out there,” but he is determined to model positive service and encourage young people to sign up. Godlock also teaches BLET in the ICC program.
Both men agreed the culture is full of false stereotypes.
“Law enforcement is nothing like what they see on television,” Bailey said. “If you’re only getting into it for the car chases and for the adrenaline and stuff like that, the job doesn’t support that lifestyle.”
Both men got into law enforcement because they had family members who worked in the field. Bailey’s uncle served as coroner and Godlock’s great uncle was among the first black officers to serve in Polk County.
“Young people say to me they don’t want to have to arrest family,” Godlock said. “I tell my family don’t do anything that will make me have to arrest you. But I have had to deal with family and friends and I tell them it’s professional. It is not personal.”
Godlock also said if he is in a conversation with an adult and a child walks up, he will engage with the child as a way to present a positive experience.
“Back when I had to write people tickets, I would give the adult the ticket, but if there was a child in the car he would give them a sucker. That adult might be cussing me for giving them that ticket, but that child sucking on that sucker is thinking, ‘He’s not so bad,’ ” Godlock said.
He also said he believes protests are important, but added, “If all you are doing is protesting, and you’re not willing to become part of the system, part of the solution, all you are doing is making a sound. I can’t change a thing if I’m not part of the process.”
Bailey added, “There’s only so much one person can do,” referring to the frustration many officers feel when dealing with crime. “That wears on a person day to day. That’s why a lot of people get out of it.”
Godlock added, “I have seen officers do things I would never do.” One of his reasons for being there is to never do those things.
Godlock serves as captain of support services, dealing with, “Anything that has to do with the community.” He supervises the school resource officers, the “Are you okay?” service which telephones senior citizens living alone or in other vulnerable situations, and other community services.
Acknowledging the prejudice that lingers in the community, Godlock added, “That badge will open doors for me that the color of my skin would not.”
Persons interested in a law enforcement career are encouraged to contact ICC to learn more. Call (828) 395-1644 or (828) 395-1668.
RUTHERFORDTON — According to the recently-released annual report (for 2020) of the Rutherford County Community Child Protection and Child Fatality Prevention Team, substance abuse and domestic violence continue to be the most identified issue, consistent with all Department of Social Services (DSS) cases.
The team reviews active cases in which abuse, neglect, or dependency were substantiated, in order to identify any lack of resources, gaps, or deficiencies that may have affected the outcome of the case. The team also advocates for system improvements and policy or legislative changes. It also promotes collaboration between agencies in the creation or improvement of resources for children.
Cases may be brought for review at the specific request of a team member or the DSS.
“Conducting these reviews proves to be successful as insight is gained in how to better meet the needs of families by discussion with community professionals that serve on the team,” said DSS Director John Carroll, who presented the report to the Rutherford County commissioners. “It also enhances the working relationship between the agencies that are represented on the team.”
The team reviewed four child protective cases in 2020. No team members requested cases for review, so all were selected by DSS. All four cases were court-related and multiple agencies were involved. Substance abuse was a factor in three of the cases; substance abuse and domestic violence were both present in two of these.
Child fatalities are reviewed approximately one year after the death occurs. In Rutherford County, all child deaths are reviewed. These reviews are not limited to those related to maltreatment or due to involvement with any particular agency. In 2020, the team reviewed only one child death, which was the result of a single car automobile accident.
Parents of these children are never contacted and the deaths are reviewed in closed session, with each team member held to strict confidentiality guidelines.
The team is required by the state, to submit an annual report to the county commissioners. The child protection/child fatality prevention teams were established by the state law in 1991.
Members of the team, in addition to Carroll, include representatives from law enforcement, mental health organizations, health department, public schools, emergency management, physicians, and child care agencies.