UNION — A program of the NAACP that helps keep needy children in school did not receive any funding from Union County in 2012 but county council’s newest member has pledged to support the program in the future.
James R. Rice, president of the Union County Chapter of the NAACP, spoke at the organization’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at Sims Middle School Monday night. Rice pointed out that the NAACP did not receive any funds from Union County this year for its program that helps needy children stay in school. He said the NAACP received the funding while the late Dora Martin-Jennings was on council, but that after she died the organization was told that it would not receive any funding from the county this year.
In an interview Tuesday morning, Rice said that the funds donated by the county were matched by the NAACP which in turn donated it to the Union County School District.
“We have a stay in school program and Union County donated $1,400 to us the previous year and we matched it,” Rice said. “We donated it to (Union County School Superintendent) Ms. (Kristi) Woodall to help kids stay in school and to be distributed among the five elementary schools.
“What we did in the past was donate to one school, but since I’ve been president we’ve donated to all five,” he said. “We may not be able to give them much but we give them something.”
In October, the NAACP donated $1,000 to the school district presenting the check to Woodall and Union County School Board Chair B.J. McMorris.The check was presented by Rice and NAACP Secretary Dorothy Jeter who said the group’s donation was smaller than last year’s because the group had less help this year.
Rice said Tuesday that the organization had approached Union County Supervisor Tommy Sinclair about the county again making a donation.
“We went back to the county supervisor and at first he said they were going to do something,” Rice said. “We waited and waited and waited and when we went back he said the county could only do half as much. When we came back again and he said they couldn’t do it at all. That’s why this last year we were only able to give $1,000.”
Rice said he feels the NAACP received the $1,400 only because of Martin-Jennings’ efforts on its behalf. He said that with her death he feels there is no one on council to speak on behalf of the NAACP and the programs it supports.
“We got it because Mrs. Martin was speaking up for us,” Rice said. “I don’t feel we have any representation at all. It might change, but God knows that’s how I feel.”
Rice said he hopes the county will again support the NAACP’s efforts to help the needy children of Union County stay in school. He also called on the business community and the people of Union County to support the organization’s efforts to keep children in school.
“Those kids need help bad and we not only need help from the county, we also could use the help of local businesses to keep these kids in school,” Rice said. “These kids are not the NAACP’s responsibility or the county’s responsibility, they are everybody’s responsibility. It cost less to keep them in school than to keep them in jail.”
Martin-Jennings held the District 2 council seat until her death on Sept. 28, 2012. The seat is now held by councilman Frank Hart who contacted Rice Tuesday after hearing about his comments. He said after speaking with Rice and learning about the program, he is committed to supporting it in the future.
“I spoke with Mr. Rice and told him that I didn’t know anything about the program,” Hart said. “He explained how the program works in terms of assisting underprivileged kids in school and I pledged to him I would support the program going forward.”
Rice welcomed Hart’s statement of support.
“I feel good, I’m really pleased with that,” Rice said. “My hope is that if the county council can do something to help it would be highly appreciated.”
When contacted about Rice’s remarks Tuesday morning, Sinclair said the donation the NAACP received from the county was not from funds included in the county budget. Instead, Sinclair said the donation was from funds allocated to the special projects accounts of each council member who can distribute them at their discretion.
“Each council member has a $5,000 special projects fund,” Sinclair said. “They can choose what they want to do with that money. Typically it is for something within their district like ball field improvements.”
Sinclair said Rice had approached him about the donation and that he’d referred the matter to county council.
“He did contact me and I brought it up to council and while there was no collective decision made and no vote was taken, it was left up to the individual council members to choose to use their special project funds to donate to or support the NAACP’s school effort,” Sinclair said. “As I recall over the years it was probably Dora Martin-Jennings who was the council leader in that effort.
“It is not, however, a budgeted item and while council members can choose do it, I do not have the authority to use any part of the budget to do it,” he said. “Budgets are council-approved and focused generally on county operations.”
Sinclair also pointed out that the council has supported the NAACP’s efforts over the past several years, both with contingency funds and with allocations from the members’ special projects funds.
“I would like to recap some county budget items for the record before and since I have been supervisor,” Sinclair said. “In regards to the NAACP, in January 2008 the county allocated $3,100 to the NAACP and in January 2009, $2,000, all from budgeted contingency money, money set aside for emergencies.
“In 2010, my first year as supervisor, council did not authorize any money from the contingency fund but council members Martin-Jennings and Hanvey authorized $500 each from their individual special projects fund,” he said. “In 2011, each member of council used $200 including myself for a total of $1,400 to support the ‘back to school’ effort.”
Sinclair said he agreed with Rice’s position that keeping children in school is better than having them end up in jail.
“I do appreciate Mr. Rice’s leadership and certainly as a retired school person and one who experiences every day the cost of keeping a jail or detention center going, I agree that school is certainly a better place to focus resources,” Sinclair said.
However, Sinclair said the county must deal with current fiscal realities.
“I would remind folks as we are about approach budget season again that this county, unlike the federal government, cannot operate in deficit, or as my father used to say you cannot spend more than you make,” Sinclair said. “In that vein I have been in this office three years now and in that time we, council and myself, have not replaced clerks in four offices — assessor, probate judge, magistrate, and auditor. We have had a floating clerk slot that has been filled on a somewhat as-needed basis to spread through various offices as needs exist.
“I would also remind folks that we have had a $1.5 million reduction total in state funding and we had to replace ‘lost’ money from public officials and employees,” he said. “I would note that we went several years not fully replacing law enforcement vehicles, not giving cost of living raises, not raising taxes, running the library air condition system at half capacity, not helping the arts council until this year, replacing roofs, replacing the maintenance facility, putting off the Historical Society, etc. We have all at the local level had to tighten our belts. We at the local level do not need to spend more than we make. I would argue that reductions to support the NAACP school program are reflective of limited funding and increased county needs, not of anything else.”
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.