The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education voted 5-2 Thursday to spend $2.2 million worth of the district’s unassigned fund balance on school repairs and a plan to increase teacher pay.
About $904,000 will go to repair Glenwood Elementary this summer. The school, which is among the oldest in the district, has been plagued with recent sewage spills and stormwater flooding.
“We have had a very difficult start to the year,” said Katie Jamieson, a parent member of the Glenwood School Improvement Team.
“We’ve had two incidents of sewage pipes bursting and yielding the contents through classroom space in the building,” she said. “We had stormwater coming in through a kindergarten classroom and taking down a wall and a ceiling. We’ve got floods coming in through the library which is damaging carpet, furniture and books; we have flooding outside the building and inside the building. We have heat that is intermittent. We have incessantly leaking toilets. It’s a very, very old building.”
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Board members agreed the school needs immediate attention. The repairs mean Glenwood will be moved off the list of improvement projects to be funded by the bond referendum the Orange County commissioners are planning for November 2016.
If voters back the bond, the county would split $120 million between the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district and Orange County Schools to pay for school repairs and renovations. School board members say while they recognize many district schools need repairs, fixing Glenwood is the most feasible in the short-term.
“They are puzzle pieces that we’re working together trying to figure out,” explained board Vice Chair Andrew Davidson. “We’ve got this chunk of money, how can we get the biggest bang for our buck? That’s a $900,000 puzzle piece, compared to a $54 million puzzle piece.”
The board also approved a plan to set aside $1.37 million as a buffer against what Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese called “a lot of unknowns” in the budget planning process.
Superintendent Tom Forcella said school officials are keeping a close eye on the General Assembly, anticipating either a mandated teacher pay increase or cuts to teaching assistant funding.
Administrators are also concerned that Wake County’s recent move to increase teacher salary supplements to meet the national average could significantly reduce the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district’s ability to recruit and retain teachers.
Forcella noted that teacher salaries will be a major budget driver in the coming months, but he was clear that the fund balance money is not meant to be spent on one-time bonuses. Rather, it could serve as a launching point for a yet-to-be-determined plan to increase yearly wages.
Board members Michelle Brownstein and James Barrett opposed the proposal, saying it was too vague, with no guarantee that teachers would see an increase next year.
“I think we have to be bold,” said Barrett. “What Wake County did was bold, and if we don’t recognize that it was unusual and extraordinary, and do something to try to keep up and try to recognize a benefit for our teachers immediately, then we’ll always be trying to play catch-up.”
“They had a plan,” Board Chair Mike Kelley replied. “To me, a one-time bonus is not plan.”
Jamezetta Bedford said the $1.37 million in “seed money” could help the board develop a long-term plan, though she warned that plan might get upended by the state legislature.
“What if the General Assembly turns around and wipes out every TA? Then it’s a balancing point again and we’ll have a pot of money. Maybe some goes to teachers and some goes to TAs. I think it’s a good cushion to have.”