District looks at options for funding, training
Unless Union County gets an exemption, students and teachers will be showing up for more school days this coming August. Before they adjourned the session, state lawmakers passed a bill expanding the 180 day school year to 185, while keeping the opening and ending dates the same. In the same bill, lawmakers removed the requirement that school districts provide five teacher workdays each year, meaning districts now have to figure out how to train teachers, add five new school days and determine where the money’s going to come from to pay for it all.
“It certainly happened fast, we haven’t had a chance to go over the details of what’s required yet,” Union County School Board member David Scholl said.
The problem for Union County and other districts across the state is that the General Assembly passed the bill long after most areas already settled on a budget for next school year. Those five added days means higher costs for some schools, as they have to plan for higher electrical bills, more food for the cafeteria and other things not originally planned for.
“I’m concerned with the timing of this,” Union County Superintendent Ed Davis said. “It costs $300,000 for transportation and utilities alone, to run five extra days. That’s money we don’t have.”
As it stands, the school district will receive $79,504,155 from the county, the same level as in the current year’s budget. That includes a $2.5 million cut, involving an 11 percent drop in central services staff, a 2 percent cut in maintenance, 6 percent drop in furniture and equipment and a 60 percent cut in funding for media assistants. All elementary schools will lose their media assistants for the upcoming year, as well as the elementary level Spanish language program. The district also had to absorb a 17 percent drop in both master’s degree and national board supplements, reducing that from $1800 per year to $1500.
“With all the curriculum changes and Race to the Top requirements, teachers have to get trained,” Union County School Board member David Scholl said. “How can we do that without the teacher workdays in the calender?”
Davis agreed, saying the district needed more days, not less, for teacher training, adding that superintendents across the state had asked lawmakers not to put last minute surprises like this in the budget.
“One thing superintendents asked the General Assembly for this session was no unfunded mandates,” Davis said. “I’m fine with operating five more days. In the long run, I do think it’s a benefit. But give us the money to operate.”
The one caveat included in the bill is that lawmakers gave the North Carolina Board of Education the authority to make exceptions, designating some school districts that can postpone implementing the plan for a year. During their June 24 meeting, the state board of education voted unanimously to allow schools the option to postpone the extra five days, but only if they use the days for teacher training. Mecklenburg County has already filed with the state, requesting an exemption and Scholl said he assumed Union County would do the same. Davis said he did plan to ask the state for an exemption. The exemptions expire after one year however, so Union County and other districts will have to determine where to get the extra money as they start to work on next year’s budget.
“We’ll have to find that out, as it will probably be part of our budget process,” Scholl said.
Also on June 24, Gov. Perdue’s office announced she had signed into law a bill creating a commission to study the effects of lengthening the school year.
“At least we’ll have a whole year to plan for it,” Davis said, adding that the district would have to determine the best way to fit in the five extra days, while also providing training for teachers.
The Union County School Board’s next meeting is scheduled for