Teachers, students and parents urged county leaders Thursday night to fully fund the roughly $8 million requested increase in the local school system’s budgets.
The Orange County Board of Commissioners will hold a second public hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 19, at the Southern Human Services Center, 2501 Homestead Road in Chapel Hill.
County Manager Bonnie Hammersley’s draft $239.3 million budget for next year includes $2.6 million more for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County school systems. The increase raises per student spending by $24.50 to $3,722, or to $133 per student, Hammersley said, when the cost for charter school students and for school nurses and resource officers is included.
The state does not factor in those costs when determining per student spending.
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Some teachers, parents and students who spoke Thursday noted that the thunderous downpour outside the county’s Whitted Building made a fitting backdrop for the financial position in which the state has put local schools and teachers. A few urged the commissioners to pass a tax increase, if that’s what it takes, to fully fund the districts’ requests.
Local teachers are doing a good job preparing students to go out into the world, said Teresa Edwards, a parent of two high school students. But the proposed budget, even with an increase, is significantly less than what the Orange County Schools need, she said.
“While I hope you can find another way to do it, if what it takes to hold on to the people that we’ve had and to give children younger than my own the opportunities that my children have had, then raise my taxes, because there’s no other group I would rather give my money to,” Edwards said.
More than half of Cedar Ridge High School’s teachers don’t live in the county, science teacher Lynne Gronback said, and almost half make ends meet by working a second job. The district will struggle next year to find teachers for state-mandated classes, she predicted, let alone elective or upper-level courses.
Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools officials noted recently that teacher turnover in both districts is 18 percent or more. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools had trouble last year hiring enough teachers for its elementary school, exceptional, and math and science classes, they said.
Don’t throw the kids under the bus. Don’t throw the teachers under the bus.
Steve Halkiotis, Orange school board member
Teachers are giving up time with their own families, paying for supplies out of pocket and thinking about better opportunities in other states, they said.
Tom Mullaney, a digital learning coach at Gravelly Hill Middle School, said his heart sank after hearing how much he would earn as teacher in North Carolina. The teachers he works with do “awesome, innovative things” compared with most of the nation, he said.
“If you grant Orange County Schools the money it deserves, those teachers will still do that,” he said. “If you don’t, those teachers will still do that, but they might do it in Wake County; they might do it in another state. I might wind up doing it in another state.”
Everybody understands the problem stems from the state “destroying public schools” and passing the buck to local governments, school board member Steve Halkiotis said, but the commissioners and county manager can do more to make sure local teachers and students are supported.
“The seven of you must save the children of the Orange County School and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools,” Halkiotis said. “Don’t throw the kids under the bus. Don’t throw the teachers under the bus. Don’t throw the community under the bus. The children are looking to us; we have to fight for them.”