Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

After completing their mid-year review, the Macon County Board of Commissioners revisited funding requests from both the Macon County School System and the Cowee School Heritage Center. Both organizations requested about an additional $20,000 each for different needs, and with little discussion, commissioners voted to approve both requests.

Commissioners Ronnie Beale and Paul Higdon met recently with members of the Cowee Heritage Center board at the school to discuss their finances and needs.

“They still need some help from the county, but it’s the least they’ve ever needed. To finish out this [fiscal] year, they do need an additional $20,000 to carry them through the end of June. We agreed on that number that that is what it would take to get them to the end of June; then at budget time, we would certainly sit down and look at it, and they agreed to do that,” said Beale.

Six years ago, commissioners set out on a mission to create an arts and heritage center for the community, while preserving an historic building. For the last six years, the Cowee School Arts and Heritage Center has been the site for the promotion of Macon County culture, entertainment, entrepreneurial endeavors, and serves as a community landmark.

Beale made the motion to approve the additional funding for the center this year “They have some good things happening there and a lot of the folks are looking to this board to make sure that we are still in full support of the Heritage Center, and I think we are. It’s a great asset to our county in many ways, as is that board. So, with that I would make a motion that we approve the $20,000 to the Heritage Center to finish out their year, and there might even be savings off of that, but not to exceed $20,000 and for that money be taken out of contingency (funds).”

Out of the $20,000 requested, $18,000 will go toward contractual services, which includes $3,000 a month to pay the center’s director. The other $2,000 will fund maintenance projects at the school. The motion was approved unanimously by the board.

Teacher supplements

In early December, the Macon County Board of Education requested an additional $23,415.13 to provide all teacher and teacher assistants a two percent teacher supplement. The county has funded the teacher supplement for more than a decade, but this year, because of raises on the state level, the school system needed additional funds to fully provide the supplement. The supplement is based on a teacher’s base salary. Over the last few years, the state has increased the base salary, which means the amount needed for the supplement also needed to increase.

“Fully funding the teacher supplement is important for a few very important reasons,” said Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin. “Macon County Schools (MCS) has already paid the supplement to teachers, so the funds the county commissioners are providing can now be used to provide for needed classroom furniture and equipment, technology upgrades, or other one-time expenditures. Fully funding the teacher supplement also allows Macon County to remain competitive in attracting and retaining the best teachers possible. There are currently only 10 counties in the state that do not supplement teacher pay.  Of the 105 N.C. school districts that offer a teacher supplement two percent is fairly low. Most importantly, funding a supplement for instructional personnel sends a strong positive message to these workers that their job is important. The message that Macon County values education is also important for young professionals and businesses that might be considering a move to our county.”

Commissioners unanimously voted to approve the supplement, but plan to discuss the supplement’s future during this year’s budget season. Commissioner Paul Higdon  noted that while he supports the supplement and what it means for teachers in the county, he would like to see a cap, or one flat amount associated with the supplement to avoid an increase each year. As long as state legislators continue to increase teacher salary, which Gov. Roy Cooper plans to do based on his initial budget talking points released on Monday, the amount the county provides for the supplement would also continue to increase, making it difficult to budget for each year.