Monday, 06 June 2016 17:26

County schools supplemental tax referendum to be on Nov. ballot

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As Halifax County's three school systems continue to grapple with the question of equitable funding, commissioners today approved a petition from the Halifax County Board of Education which will put a referendum on the November 8 general election ballot requesting voter approval of a supplemental school tax.

The county board of education adopted a resolution requesting the election in a special session on May 26 as a way to determine whether the voters within the county school district are willing to allow the county school system to authorize a levy and collect “a supplemental school tax for the benefit of that district to the same extent allowed the other two districts within the county ...” the petition approved by commissioners says.

The supplemental funds, the petition says, would allow the county school system “to operate schools of a higher standard by supplementing the school budget ...”

The petition says Roanoke Rapids and Weldon have previously sought and been granted “the benefit of the levy and collection of a special tax for the purpose of supplementing their school budgets.”

The document argues, “The fact that other systems within the county have special taxing districts which has not been granted to the Halifax County Board of Education creates inequity in the funding for public education in Halifax County which demands immediate redress.”

Because the school board presented the petition, County Attorney Glynn Rollins told the board, “You are bound to do that.”

If approved by the voters in November, Rollins said the board of education would be able to authorize a tax levy of up to 50 cents per $100 of valuation, however, he said, it is not anticipated the school system would authorize that much of levy.

Under terms of the petition, the referendum would be for voters within the Halifax County School District defined by the following the boundaries:

All land within the corporate limits of the county bounded on the north by the Roanoke River.

On the east by the Roanoke River and Martin County.

On the south by Edgecombe County and Nash County.

On the south and west by Franklin County.

On the west by Warren County.

It excludes all land or territory which makes up the Roanoke Graded School District as well as land or territory which constitutes the Weldon City School District.

A similar referendum in 2012 was shot down by a 71.38 percent to 28.62 percent margin.

With the referendum now set for placement on the November 8 ballot, the question still remains how the three school systems will achieve equitable funding amongst themselves as set by a directive from commissioners in April.

The directive came after commissioners decided then to stick with the ad valorem method of sales and use tax distribution and left the matter in the hands of the three school systems to forge a plan.

“We've had a number of meetings,” said Roanoke Rapids Graded School District Board of Education Chair Jay Carlisle.

The county system is onboard, he said, but Weldon is hesitant.

“Yes, we are hesitant,” said Weldon City Schools Board of Education Chair Hugh Credle. “Roanoke Rapids gets the bulk of the funds. We're trying to propose something to give Halifax County to make it more equitable.”

Credle believes there should be a fixed amount which stays the same. “I'm hesitant, my board is on edge. It looks like we've excluded Weldon City Schools from the picture.”

With discussions during the meeting today centering on the referendum and then later on the equitable funding question, Halifax County Schools Board of Education Chair Debbie Hardy said there has to be a solution.

The county school system, she said, has gone 43 years with the funding going to Weldon and Roanoke Rapids. “I wish we could fix it. I wish we could be in Roanoke Rapids and Weldon's position.”

Board of Commissioners Chair Vernon Bryant said a decision has to be made and wants the school representatives to come back at the board's June 20 meeting. “I think it's imperative a decision is made. I think you're close to the point of working everything out.”

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