State budget’s boost in teacher pay comes with strings, ‘potentially dangerous’ cuts, they say

Last updated: June 06. 2014 1:28PM - 524 Views
By - cberendt@civitasmedia.com

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While local school officials are encouraged by state proposals to boost teacher pay, those budget provisions could have “potentially dangerous” effects on the schools, students and the community, they said.

In a missive widely emailed by city schools superintendent Stuart Blount and posted on the Clinton City Schools website, he stated that the school system was encouraged that the N.C. House, Senate and governor’s office are in agreement that educator salaries need to be a priority for the current N.C. legislative session.

After carefully reviewing the budgets proposed by Gov. Pat McCrory and the N.C. Senate, Blount noted, Clinton City Schools believes that while the governor’s budget takes important steps in addressing the need to improve that pay across the state, the Senate budget “calls for significant cuts in funding to the detriment of our children and local community.”

It could mean up to $1.7 million in cuts to the city schools alone.

“Under the Senate budget proposal, any salary increase for teachers would require Clinton City Schools to lay off staff and cut services to our students,” the superintendent said. “Due to continued budget cuts over the last several years, Clinton City Schools has had to spend down their fund balance to maintain the needed services for our students and community.”

Blount, along with Sampson County Schools superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy, has previously detailed those hardships to the Sampson Board of Commissioners, the school systems’ local funding source.

“During the current fiscal year, Clinton City Schools has appropriated $1.3 million of its fund balance in order to maintain needed services and employment,” Blount remarked. “Because continued appropriation of fund balance is unsustainable, the Clinton City Schools have been forced to identify approximately $900,000 in cuts for the 2014-2015 school year.”

That is projection at this point, because the local school systems do not have final budget allocations from its three funding sources — federal, state and local.

“This number could very easily increase once final budget allocations are received,” Blount noted in the letter.

To that end, Clinton City Schools will have to cut $800,000 in addition to the $900,000 previously identified from budget funding projections if the Senate budget is approved, Blount noted.

The direct impact of the potential Senate budget approval to Clinton City Schools would be the elimination of:

• state funding for drivers education, shifting the total cost of drivers education to parents (projected to be as high as $250 per student);

• 16 teacher assistant positions, as well as additional classroom teaching positions, resulting in even higher classroom sizes;

• and three grant-funded school nurse positions, leaving Clinton City Schools with one school nurse;

It would also mean a 5 percent reduction in central services allocation.

To aid in local funding, the county’s proposed budget calls for an increase in the local per pupil contribution to $900, up from the current $857, based upon an estimated student population of 11,556, translating to an additional $484,000 in operational funding for the two school systems ($354,000 for county schools, $130,000 for city schools).

The city schools had proposed an increase of $278 per pupil to $1,135, while the county requested $900 per pupil, still below the state average contribution of $1,670. The schools have already appropriated $2.8 million in fund balance to fund 2014-15 needs.

Earlier this year in meetings with county commissioners, Bracy and Blount said state cuts have left school systems with room that needs to be made up in funding. A governor’s proposal that would give teachers a raise, while much deserved, would affect county coffers if approved, they noted.

That prospect has only gotten more extreme.

McCrory’s proposed $21 billion budget includes $262.9 million for teacher raises. The Senate took that further last week, pledging to spend up to $468 million for teacher salary hikes next year, providing more than a $5,800 average salary increase per teacher in the first year of implementation. The plan would also repeal the automatic loss of tenure in 2018 and instead offer teachers a choice of whether to maintain that status.

Teachers who decide to work on annual contracts for the 2014-15 school year would move to the new pay scale and receive the substantial salary increase, while others would stay on the current track.

Teacher pay raises would increase the costs to Clinton City Schools for locally paid teachers, Blount noted. The teacher raise proposed by the Senate would only cover state-paid positions. Bracy talked about the tough times faced by educators and school administrators to commissioners during the recent meeting.

“These are very difficult financial times for us as school systems,” Bracy attested. “The needs are greater than they’ve ever been and the resources are as thin as I’ve seen since I became a superintendent. The demands are greater … especially on our teachers who are in classes every day making a difference. As a result of those cuts at the state, it impacts us on the local level,” Bracy remarked.

Schools are “getting creative” in maximizing resources to save money, Bracy has stressed. Blount said that creativity will soon be at the expense of schools, teachers and their students.

“While Clinton City Schools strongly encourages the General Assembly to improve the pay for teachers, it should not be at the expense of services to our children and other school employees’ jobs,” Blount asserted.

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121. Follow us on twitter @SampsonInd.

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