Members of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board say they’re committed to raising teacher salaries next year, even in the face of uncertain funding from the state and county.
The superintendent’s recommended budget for 2016-17 calls for an additional $1.8 million to increase the local supplement the district pays on top of the state’s base salary, which starts at $38,500.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system currently offers beginning teachers an additional 12 percent supplement, but officials say Wake County’s decision to raise their local supplement to 17.5 percent has made it hard to attract and retain top recruits.
“We’re at an impasse now that Wake has thrown down the gauntlet,” said school board member Pat Heinrich.
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Other CHCCS budget priorities include spending $306,000 to cover the state’s reduction in funding for teaching assistants, and providing for an estimated $2.1 million in anticipated state mandates.
All told, the budget asks for an additional $4.46 million from Orange County Commissioners, equivalent to a 4.4 cent property tax rate increase, or, for example, $110 on a $250,000 house.
If approved, the amount spent on each student in the district would rise $369 to $4,066.
Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told the school board the request is time-sensitive, as the district is already offering employment contracts to teachers. The board must make a formal commitment by April 7, the date when the budget request goes to county commissioners for review.
Promise a gamble
Though district leaders say increasing teacher pay is the top priority in next year’s budget, making that promise is a gamble, as there’s no guarantee the county will fund it. There’s also uncertainty about what state lawmakers will do in regard to teacher pay, and when they’ll finalize their budget.
The superintendent’s budget anticipates that the General Assembly might mandate a 5 percent pay raise for teachers, but school officials say that $1.1 million estimate is only a placeholder until state legislators draw up a spending plan.
If the board commits to a pay increase and state or local money is not forthcoming, district leaders say they will need to consider deep budget cuts to live up to the promise.
“To be clear, this is a substantial amount of money,” said school board member Rani Dasi. “When we talk about making cuts, we’re not cutting one or two teachers, or one or two programs, we’re talking about structural cuts that impact the way we teach our children in this district.
“Five million dollars? There’s no way to get that without things that make us bleed. People have to know this is what we’re talking about. This is the new reality.”
The board will hold a public hearing on the budget March 17, and finalize the budget request by April 7.
In other business
▪ Newly appointed school board member Joal Hall Broun took the oath of office from Judge Joe Buckner, replacing Michelle Brownstein who resigned in December with two years left in her term.
▪ Superintendent Tom Forcella responded to criticism from members of the Campaign For Racial Equity, which recently accused top administrators of dragging their feet on pledging to improve racial equity in the school district.
Forcella said he and his executive team are committed to exploring the four equity goals laid out by the Campaign in an 80-page report documenting a pattern of achievement gaps and discipline disparities that negatively impact black and Latino students.
He said his staff is reviewing the report page by page. Administrators will prepare a list of short-term equity goals to enact next year in advance of the district’s five-year plan. The school board will review those goals on March 17.
▪ The school board expressed interest in a forming a calendar planning committee to help brainstorm new solutions to the question of how to schedule inclement weather makeup days. This comes after complaints from members of the Jewish community that scheduling makeup days on Saturdays is unfair to those who must choose between celebrating Shabbat or attending school.
Assistant Superintendent LoFrese told the board the combination of snowy weather and inflexible state scheduling rules have made it challenging to plan the school calendar in recent years. Some have called for “time-banking,” in which the district extends all school days by a small amount to add up to more instruction time, but LoFrese urged caution, saying any extension of instruction time should be targeted toward academic achievement.