In the wake of Hurricane Florence, some school systems are in desperate straits. In Pender County, North Carolina, for example, many schools remain unusable, and repair money has been depleted. Further complicating things is a law that forbids school systems from signing repair contracts unless the money is in place.
Monday night, Superintendent Steven Hill announced that the reopening for Pender Schools has been delayed until Oct. 18, at the earliest. Hill noted that the system was in discussions with local, state and federal officials to "try and overcome this situation."
Schools in Pender County have already been closed for a month. If a lack of cash is forcing students to miss even more days, the General Assembly must step in immediately and help the school system and county do what is necessary to get students back in class ASAP.
And Pender isn't alone: School systems in North Carolina's Duplin and Onslow counties have delayed start dates until Oct. 15. In Craven County, North Carolina, a handful of schools opened Monday, but the rest are closed until at least Oct. 15.
Although North Carolina's state constitution says the General Assembly "may assign to units of local government" the responsibility for financial support of schools, it's clear that the responsibility ultimately lies with the state legislature.
In North Carolina, the state primarily pays public-school salaries. The counties — or, in some cases, municipalities — are responsible for facilities. (Some local governments also pitch in for pay supplements and additional resources.)
In normal times (remember normal times?), keeping those facilities open is the responsibility of those "units of local government." If, however, they cannot fulfill that duty — for whatever reason — the state legislature should intervene.
In Pender's case, the county allocated an additional $4 million for storm repairs, but that money has been spent. The state wisely requires local governments to maintain a minimum level of savings. But the storm is lowering those funds as quickly as it caused rivers to rise.
It is understandable that, with such widespread and unprecedented damage, some of those "units of local government" are currently unable to comply with the school responsibilities that the state legislature assigned to them.
That doesn't mean the Honorables should simply start throwing money at school systems. But with a $2 billion rainy-day fund — which, by the way, the General Assembly leadership deserves credit for building — the state legislature needs to do whatever it takes to ensure all North Carolina students are back in class post-haste. We hope such an effort is already in the works.
For the state legislature to do otherwise, we'd argue, would be neglecting its constitutional mandate on education.
REPRINTED FROM THE NEW BERN SUN JOURNAL