Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools budget would give teachers paid parental leave

Enrollment is projected to grow by only 20 students next year, but the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is about to ask the county for a $5.5 million increase in local funding.

Most of that money would go to maintaining current facilities, salaries and programs, but some is slated for new initiatives like paid parental leave and equity training.

“The continuation piece is the majority of it,” board member Rani Dasi said. “The other piece is asking for safety-related things for students and schools and the teacher support on maternity benefits.”

Last year, the county gave the district $51.5 million in appropriations and nearly $23.5 million in a special district tax, for a total of $75 million in local funding.

CHCCS is increasing its appropriations request to $57 million and hoping for $80 million in total local funding. The district expects the special tax to remain the same, but it has authorized the county to raise it to nearly $0.25 per $100 of property valuation if needed.

The school board approved the budget request unanimously Thursday night.

Continuation funding

The district is requesting almost $3.6 million in money for maintaining current services, a 7% increase from last year’s budget.

Like other districts around the state, CHCCS is seeing slowing enrollment growth. The district expects 20 new students requiring $123,780.

The largest part of the budget request is projected salary and benefit increases. The district is requesting $3.2 million for salary increases, a 5% increase in the local supplement to teachers’ state pay, and increases tied to retirement and hospitalization rates.

It is also requesting an additional $237,715 to cover operating cost increases related to utilities, maintenance and supplies.

Expansion requests

The budget seeks $2 million for new initiatives, noting CHCCS’s successes, such as a 91.6% graduation rate and the highest average SAT and ACT scores in the state.

Dasi said paid parental is an important piece of the budget.

“When I came onto the board, I was stunned to learn that teachers don’t receive maternity benefits,” she said.

If the county approves this budget, the district would have $450,000 to provide four weeks of parental leave for 75 to 85 employees.

“It just seems reasonable to me that for the most important person in the building, you’d want to make sure that they’re healthy and have time to be supportive of their families,” Dasi said.

Dasi said the policy will cover all teachers, but it’s mainly geared toward maternity leave, as “80 plus percent” of teachers are women. The district has not offered paid maternity leave before, so many teachers had to rely on sick days or unpaid parental leave, she said.

“It’s a community issue in my mind as well,” Dasi said. “If a teacher isn’t doing well, and their family isn’t doing well, what’s happening to our community?”

The largest section of the expansion request, $750,000, would go to the first phase of the district’s three-year safety plan. The district plans to use the money for emergency digital radios, intercoms, Americans with Disabilities Act compliance and enhancing the district’s door system.

CHCCS also hopes to dedicate $232,000 to comprehensive social and emotional programming, $200,000 to equity training and ensuring a culturally relevant curriculum and $300,000 for expanded summer programming.

Program funding

Recently, the district has heard from groups frustrated with a perceived lack of funding for programs dedicated to students of color, specifically the Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate program.

The district said, while outside funding for the program might have changed, its financial support has remained constant for at least three years.

The decision to turn Glenwood Elementary School into a Mandarin dual language program has also been controversial.

The expansion request does not specifically address either of these issues, Dasi said, but funding for both is in the continuation section of the budget.

“There could be some movement around within that budget, but we’re not asking for new money specifically for those programs,” she said. “That’s not to say there won’t be more money. We would just have to find it.”

Next steps

The budget will be presented to the county this month, but the district won’t know exactly what it is working with next year for several weeks.

Dasi said a series of meetings will be held with time for public comment on May 14, 16 and 23.

Filling vacancy

The board also voted Thursday on the process for filling the seat vacated by Margaret Samuels, the former board chair who resigned in March.

A group of parents and others had called for a recall of Samuels, along with board members James Barrett and Pat Heinrich. The group was concerned with a possible conflict of interest in Heinrich and Barrett’s votes in the decision to create the dual language program at Glenwood Elementary.

Instead of opening up the seat to applicants, the board will nominate and approve a new board member in May to serve out Samuels’ term.

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