By Jesse Wood
May 14, 2014. To send a message to the Watauga County Board of Education and the administration of Watauga County Schools, a majority of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners elected to cut $50,000 from the school system’s 2014-15 fiscal year budget at Tuesday’s work session.
As it did the prior summer, the Watauga County Parks and Recreation is coordinating a Department of Social Services-certified summer camp on the campus of Hardin Park. But to the ire of Chair Nathan Miller, school administrators restricted the “Fun in the Sun” camp’s timeframe by two weeks from eight to six weeks.
Miller said the camp is a not-for-profit venture that is open to everyone and serves mostly underprivileged kids with subsidies available through DSS. Miller mentioned that the county received “curt” responses when contacting school officials about the scheduling conflict.
So now Miller is playing hardball by spearheading the vote to cut $50,000 from the school’s operating expenses for next year. The county administration’s proposed budget – yet to be adopted by the commissioners – included funding operating costs of the school system to the tune of $12,062,834 plus funds for the system’s capital improvement plan.
If the school officials were to allow the camp to be on the school’s grounds for the entire eight weeks this summer, Miller said the $50,000 would be reinstated to the upcoming budget.
Commissioners Perry Yates and David Blust agreed with Miller. Commissioner John Welch said any culled funds should come out of the capital funding and not operating expenses that would affect the classroom next school year.
Commissioner Billy Kennedy took a tougher stance.
“I don’t think the proper way is to beat the school into submission,” Kennedy said. “I don’t think this is an effective bargaining tool.”
WCS spokesman Marshall Ashcraft said while he was aware of the matter at hand, he didn’t know that the commissioners had elected to pull $50,000 from the upcoming fiscal year’s budget.
“We certainly like having the program [at Hardin Park] and think it’s a valuable service and want to support it,” Ashcraft said.
But at the same time, Ashcraft added that the faculty and staff need the building empty in order to perform cleaning and maintenance work required to ensure that the school is ready to open in the fall.
Instead of ending in the middle of August, the camp concludes Aug. 1. The first day of school is Aug. 19.
Interim Supt. David Fonseca wasn’t immediately available for comment.
County Manager Deron Geouque was directed to contact interim Fonseca about the matter and Miller said he was going to call school board Chair Dr. Lee Warren.