Government must learn to deal with bad options

Expressions of angst by the Beaufort County Board of Education are understandable as it chisels away at next year's budget.

In a meeting earlier this week, veteran school board member Earl Campbell said, "There comes a time when you have to stand up and say, 'No, I'm not taking it no more.' There is no way we can continue educating the children that are coming into this county every year without a tax increase."

He was speaking of the Beaufort County Council edict that it would not approve a school district budget that would include a tax increase.

The frustration stems in part from the pain and suffering the school board already has experienced in the budget process, now nearing its end.

The proposed school district budget -- which would require a 1.5 percent tax increase -- includes $5 million in cuts. Those cuts include increasing class sizes and cutting about 80 positions, including about 30 classroom teachers and literacy and math instructional coaches. It reduces funding for extracurricular activities and school supplies. It would suspend the annual pay increases teachers count on under the state's salary schedule. It suspends the step pay increases for principals and district administrators. It also includes dipping into the school district's reserve fund, which bonding agencies look at so carefully in establishing the cost to borrow money.

New school board member Bill Evans, who also has learned the meaning of budgets as a career principal and district administrator here, said, "We keep cutting and cutting, and we get nickel-and-dimed to death here, and we have no idea where the end of this tunnel is."

We're not convinced that County Council possesses any wisdom on education that should trump the school board.

But our system of governance lays final approval of the school district budget at the feet of County Council, and the school board is going to have to cope with that reality.

Painful cuts are being made daily throughout the community in homes and small businesses. Many of these cuts are being made with no clear vision of the end of the tunnel. Teachers wouldn't be the only ones not getting raises. Many other employees these days are being forced to take unpaid furloughs and permanent pay cuts. Revenues are falling on many ledger books in this community and worldwide, and it is resulting in decisions and sacrifices that are not desired or popular.

As for the school board, it blinked when it faced one of these tough decisions on closing schools. The district has an overabundance of buildings. It knows it could save money -- real money -- by consolidating some schools. But the school board did not accept it when the district administration offered up the specifics on how that could be done.

As for the public, the schools should not be expected to do so much for children from the cradle to age 18.

Today's reality is that more must be done with less. Government is not immune from reality.