Superintendents list 2016 priorities for General Assembly

School superintendents call for action on items in legislative short session

Wake County Superintendent Jim Merrill on the items that state superintendents want the General Assembly to act on during the 2016 short session. Open
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Wake County Superintendent Jim Merrill on the items that state superintendents want the General Assembly to act on during the 2016 short session. Open

Central North Carolina school superintendents – including leaders from Wake, Johnston and Orange counties – urged state lawmakers Monday to increase funding for public schools and to forgo giving more education money to private groups.

The 10 superintendents said that traditional public schools are having a hard time educating students and recruiting staff because they’re operating at 2008 funding levels. With the General Assembly returning on April 25, superintendents are holding a series of public events to promote the priorities announced Friday by the N.C. Association of School Administrators.

“The General Assembly should restore funding of our public schools to the 2008 pre-recession levels before further expanding the voucher system, creating the achievement school district or creating or funding the expansion of any program that sends taxpayer dollars to private, for-profit entities,” said Darrin Hartness, superintendent of Davie County, located southwest of Winston-Salem.

Hartness noted that schools are getting less per student for teacher assistants, textbooks and classroom supplies, while seeing cuts in the number of school counselors, nurses and social workers.

The superintendents also said increasing school employee compensation remains a priority. The General Assembly has made it a priority in recent years to raise teacher pay, but the school chiefs said more needs to be done.

Hartness said North Carolina ranks third highest among states in teachers who work second jobs.

“Many of our teachers are forced to supplement their income by spending evenings, weekends and holidays working in department stores, grocery stores and restaurants,” Hartness said.

The superintendents targeted some of the education changes pushed by the Republican-led General Assembly.

Wake County Superintendent Jim Merrill said lawmakers need to change the A through F grading system used to evaluate schools, one based 80 percent on passing rates and 20 percent on academic growth on exams. In addition, a school is now labeled as low performing if it gets a D or F grade and doesn’t exceed growth expectations on tests.

“Clearly the low-performing label lacks even the basic logic that parents should expect of any grading system,” Merrill said.

The superintendents also called for halting the expansion of the program that allows taxpayer dollars to be used to pay for tuition at private schools or any other program that sends taxpayer dollars to private, for-profit entities not held to the same standards as traditional public schools.

“It’s unfair to test us to do death and then hold us accountable while the people you’re giving money to don’t have to give the same test so we can’t compare apples to apples,” said Cumberland County Superintendent Frank Till.

Other ideas mentioned Monday include:

▪ Making it easier for teachers who are licensed in other states to be licensed in North Carolina;

▪ Not giving charter schools money for things they don’t have to offer, such as meals and Junior ROTC;

▪ Not passing legislation that would allow charter-school operators to take over some low-performing traditional public schools.

Terry Stoops, director of education research studies for the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank in Raleigh, said lawmakers might be interested in some of the superintendents’ ideas. But he questioned how much would be done during this year’s short session.

“When you look at the list, most Republican legislators are going to write this off as a wish list for a group that tends to resist the reforms they have implemented over the last six years, so it’s a non-starter,” Stoops said.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui