MONROE – Morgan Purr, a student at Sun Valley Middle School, was among three people urging Union County Public Schools during the Feb. 4 school board meeting to convince the state to pass an education budget.
“As a student, I experience the lack of money is our school system pretty much daily,” Morgan said. “From art classes with no art supplies to fundraisers for choir music, it’s just something that affects students and teachers alike.”
Her dad, Stuart Purr, echoed an idea that school board member Gary Sides mentioned during the board’s Jan. 30 finance committee meeting, which was to organize a legislative breakfast with members of Union County’s state delegation.
Claudia Sandoval, a Waxhaw resident running for school board, also supported the idea of a legislative breakfast.
“It’s my understanding that the lack of state budget has left UCPS with a hiring freeze and making tough decisions,” Sandoval said. “I understand also that some teachers have been moved to different schools and some students have had to shift to different classes. Please understand that I do not blame the board for any of this, but rather, I’m asking the board to advocate for UCPS as Mr. Sides suggested last week.”
Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled General Assembly are in a stalemate over the state’s school budget, prompting UCPS to use 2018-19 as a guide.
“The value of the dollar has changed from one year to the next,” Superintendent Andrew Houlihan said. “We have increased costs. We have increased staff. We have increased and absorbed a lot of additional services.”
Houlihan said the legislative stalemate has prompted the district to analyze its spending. Staffing has been reduced through attrition. He has told principals that UCPS faces challenges but the district is not in a crisis.
“We have a solid financial plan to end the school year,” Houlihan said. “We’re making some really hard decisions and gathering stakeholder input for the next year in case there is not a state budget then as well. We take this very seriously.”
Houlihan has personally spoken to elected officials, advocating on behalf of the district. He encouraged the community to also reach out to elected leaders in support of a resolution.
Melissa Merrell, who chairs the school board, said she’s not sure spending money on a breakfast is a good use of dollars considering the lack of a budget. She assured the community that the board has had a lot of communication with legislators.
“Just because we’re not having a breakfast and doing a dog and pony show and spending lots of money that could go into the classroom doesn’t mean that we’re not talking to our state representatives for our incredible teachers and administrators,” she said.
Merrell and Sides said the governor shouldn’t use education as leverage to advance his agenda.
“I think we need to continue to encourage, support, appreciate and thank our representatives who are continuing to come up with everything they can to support our schools, which they always have,” Merrell said. “I think we need to be leaning on the governor to stop holding our schools and our teachers hostage for Medicaid reform. It is not fair. It is not right.”