Onus lies with school system, county

County commissioners have an obligation to take care of facility needs for Sampson County and Clinton City schools, as well as Sampson Community College, and they should consider this when they begin to hammer out a final budget for 2017-18.

The Band-Aid approach doesn’t always work, either, meaning commissioners need to listen carefully to what school leaders are saying about dire facility issues and do what they can to fix them. First of all, students, faculty and staff deserve to work in quality facilities, and secondly, money spent now on repairs will be far less than it will be years down the road when major problems become disastrous issues.

Sampson County Schools officials recently outlined some of the capital requests to commissioners. They included such things as a computer control system for Midway Middle’s HVAC, a new HVAC system for the school bus garage and HVAC improvements in the dining area of Union Elementary. Bigger tickets items include athletic training facilities for Midway and Union High, roof replacement at Lakewood High and partial replacements at C.E. Perry and Hargrove Elementary schools. And that, as we understand it, merely scratches the surface of maintenance and facility needs in the county schools, alone.

The needs, and the cost to meet them, are daunting, and we understand that commissioners cannot afford to fund them all at one time. It is our hope that commissioners will consider putting some money toward the capital needs and that school officials will use what they are given to meet the gravest needs first, fixing the problem and saving the county and taxpayers money down the road.

But the onus isn’t only on commissioners. Sampson County’s Board of Education and its superintendent must show they will be responsible with the precious funds that commissioners might allocate for those facility and maintenance needs.

They aren’t there yet, especially considering last week’s fiery board meeting that pitted Commissioner’s Chairman Clark Wooten against Dr. Eric Bracy and school board members over serious questions about the system’s financial audit.

Wooten brought the audit into the spotlight during Bracy’s presentation, and though we don’t favor the way the chairman handled himself during the questioning, we agree that the questions needed to be asked and answered.

According to a news release from school officials, the annual audit, prepared by Carr, Riggs, and Ingram, LLC., found deficiencies in the internal control system of the district. One issue was overpayments due to payment of some employees from the wrong budget code. The district overspent the state allotment in 2015-16 because of procedural issues. Those funds have been repaid, school officials noted.

We believe more detail needs to be given. And commissioners deserve the answers before they can reasonably be expected to allocate more money, even funding that we believe is desperately needed.

There is ample time to work this out. The budget process is still in its infancy; school board members, Bracy and commissioners have time to flesh this out, answer the questions and settle on the needs we hope can be met.

Our hope is that work toward that goal begins sooner rather than later.