In recent years, beginning teachers have received some badly needed salary support from state government. The news has not been as great for experienced teachers. With the budget proposal we offered to the Durham Public Schools Board of Education on April 23, we hope to help them as well.
When our staff developed our budget recommendations, we offered $5.1 million in budget cuts to central services, adjusted teacher allotments to schools, and backed out one-time funding from last year. When all is said and done, balancing out our budget reductions and rising costs, our school board is now considering a proposal that spends $15.7 million less in 2015-16 than in 2014-15 and spends down our reserves to a bare minimum.
In addition to these cuts, we would request some additional funding from the county including $1.85 million simply to accommodate growth in Durham’s public and charter school populations. Another $1.8 million, however, would be directly targeted at keeping our talented and experienced teachers, the ones who have given so much of themselves to Durham children, in our classrooms.
Of that, we are asking for $1.5 million to go toward increasing the supplement paid to DPS teachers on top of their state salaries. How exactly that would be distributed depends on what comes out of the legislative session. When the state passes its budget – almost certainly well past the time our local budget must be adopted – and establishes new salary schedules, we expect that beginning teachers will still be their focus. We need to attract strong new teachers, but we need to retain strong, experienced teachers as well. If the school board requests $1.5 million, and the request is granted by the county commissioners, we plan to concentrate on the latter.
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The remaining $300,000 would go toward increasing our compensation to teachers who take on extra duties: the coaches, the extracurricular advisers, and the honor and service society leaders. The extra time our teachers give to our schools helps our students stay engaged in our school communities. These activities are sometimes the one thing that keeps a student motivated and on the path to graduation, but it is extra work for teachers who already burn the midnight oil grading papers and working on lesson plans. We need to better support them for their effort.
Compensation is only a small part of keeping excellent teachers in the classroom. Fairly consistently, teachers tell us through surveys and one-on-one that teacher pay is just one component among many in teacher satisfaction. Satisfactory working conditions – a climate of mutual respect, professional development and participatory decision making – are just as important to our teachers, if not more. Recognizing this, our school board adopted new due process protections for teachers on April 23, replacing those the state legislature took away with the elimination of “career status.” We are also seeking other ways to improve teacher satisfaction in our schools.
One of the challenges in developing a school system’s budget is striking a balance between realism and idealism. We are responsible for making careful plans to deal with anticipated limited funding and for articulating what our students truly need to succeed. Now that the DPS Board of Education has received our recommendations and prepares to take action, we will work together to do our best for all of our schools.
Bert L’Homme is the superintendent of Durham Publc Schools.