Superintendents and school board leaders from both districts made their best cases to the Orange County commissioners Thursday night for getting an additional $8 million in local funding next year.
County Manager Bonnie Hammersley’s draft $239.3 million budget for next year includes roughly $1.6 million more for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools and about $1 million more for the Orange County Schools. That is roughly $5.4 million less than the districts’ combined requests.
An extra $24.50 was proposed to bring per student spending to $3,722, although Hammersley has noted the increase grows to $133 per student if the cost that the county is paying for charter school students, school nurses and resource officers is included. Those costs are not reported under state guidelines as per student spending.
The manager’s budget is convoluted, Orange County school board Chairwoman Donna Coffey said, and does not meet state mandates, including increases in teacher pay and retirement and health insurance costs. County schools need at least $1.8 million to cover increasing expenses, she said. Another $1.9 million would boost the local teacher supplement and keep the district competitive.
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“I don’t think there’s any question when you look at our budget that our board has placed its highest priority on teachers, students, staff and Orange County families,” Coffey said. “Unfortunately, we feel that the recommended budget does not have those same values.”
Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s district has similar priorities, school board Chairman James Barrett said. The city schools are seeking $4.5 million more, including $1.8 million for local teacher supplements. Roughly $2.1 million would continue funding for current expenses, officials said.
Teacher turnover in both districts is at 18 percent or more this year, officials have said. State reports show those rates are up from 10.7 percent for Chapel Hill-Carrboro in 2010-11 and roughly 8.5 percent for Orange County. The statewide average in 2014-15 was roughly 14.8 percent.
Speakers at two public hearings and emails to the commissioners have pointed out the lure of higher teacher pay in other counties, schools lacking teachers for some classes, and others who are paying for supplies out of pocket or working two jobs to make ends meet for their families.
“As a school board member, what’s important to me is that a teacher that has a second job is not doing as good a job in the classroom as he or she could be otherwise,” Barrett said. “I want them to be the best possible teacher day in and day out, and evenings in and evenings out.”
While sympathizing with the challenges and urging more discussion of innovative ways to approach the issues, the commissioners also lamented the confrontational nature of annual budget discussions.
“Frankly, I feel sympathetic for parents who come,” Commissioner Barry Jacobs said, “but they’re also kind of whipped into a position where they’re asking for things that people on the inside know is not going to happen. It’s set up for them to be disappointed.”
The public should understand the manager’s recommended budget weighs all county needs, Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier said, but it also leaves commissioners with the option of raising taxes. This might be the year to push for more, said Commissioner Mia Burroughs, a former city school board member.
Commissioner Mark Dorosin suggested finding innovative ways to meet the challenges. Project ADVANCE is one of those innovations, Forcella said. The program rewards teachers who demonstrate professional growth rather than basing salary increases on years of experience.
But Commissioner Penny Rich, who had received emails and talked about the program with teachers and N.C. Association of Educators officials, said what she’s heard is disturbing. Veteran teachers feel like they are being forced into the program because it’s the only way to get a raise, she said.
Project ADVANCE will ensure classroom accountability, Forcella said, and is favored at the state and national levels.
“We know what’s been happening in the public schools is not working,” Forcella said. “We have done nothing to close the achievement gap across this country, so if you keep doing what you always have done, you’ll keep getting the same thing. We know that outstanding instruction in classrooms is the best way to close achievement gaps.”
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Tax for schools
A tax increase to fully fund both districts’ requests could add more than 3 cents to the county’s current tax rate of 87.8 cents per $100 in assessed value.
The county tax bill, with a 3.4-cent increase, would be $2,736 for the owner of a home valued at $300,000, a $102 increase.
Another option is raising the city schools tax rate – now 20.84 cents per $100 in property value – by roughly 2.9 cents to cover the remainder of that district’s request. A penny more would generate roughly $1 million. County school district residents do not pay a school tax.
The owner of a $300,000 home in Chapel Hill and Carrboro would pay $712.20, an $87 increase.