Faced with a proposed decrease in local funding, school board members and school administrators were at last week’s county budget hearing to ask county commissioners to reconsider school funding.
School Board Chair Sonya Cox said the proposed cuts, coupled with an exhausted school system fund balance, could be crippling for the school system.
“The cuts are so deep that they could dramatically alter the quality of our education services,” she said, noting that the system had already made cuts, including 16 teaching positions three media assistant positions and an assistant principal position, before asking the county for increased funding this year.
“The formula you used just does not make sense,” she said, referring to how County Manager Rick Morris arrived at a suggested funding figure for the school system based upon a per child allotment of funding. “You cannot allocate on an ADM basis. It is nonsensical for a county to do that. Our drop in ADM does not mean we do not still have to operate 19 schools.”
She said the number of teaching positions covered by the county had dropped dramatically from 26.4 positions in 2011 to only five positions this year, and argued that concerns over competitive salaries for county employees should also be considered when looking at funding for school system personnel.
“You have no trouble asking the county’s largest employer to cut by 10 percent some of our lowest paid clerical positions and to reduce or eliminate the four percent supplement that has been frozen for far too long,” she said. “This is egregious. We have taken numerous cuts from the state level to the tune of $2 million over the the past couple of years. As you can see in our budget, charter schools are impacting our budget negatively. Our hospitalization ad benefits continue to rise and those are things that we have no control over. We just wonder where in the world do you cut an additional $982,357 form this local budget. Do we take our employees dental insurance? Do you want us to close more schools? We sure hope not.
“Do you reduce the supplement at a time when the county manager is telling you that pay and competitive salaries are the biggest issue facing our county?” she added.
School Board Vice-Chair Pat Messick had a similar argument, noting that increases in the school budget were the result of increased costs, due to a cut in state funding, for providing school resource officers and moves to expand digital learning opportunities to all of the county’s high schools.
“The current expense budget is an operating budget and should not be figured on a per pupil basis,” she said. “It is extremely important for the students attending all of our schools that the commissioners fund our entire current expense budget.”
South Stokes High School Principal Wayne Duggins said that approximately $270,000 in the school systems’ requested budget was essential to be able to expand a digital one-to-one device program, which has been successful at North Stokes High School, to both South Stokes and West Stokes high schools.
The extension of the program requires a $200,000 local match to a Golden Leaf grant and the addition of a new staff position to help oversee the program.
“For the past two years my staff has been preparing for digital learning,” he said. “To say they would be disappointed if they do not get Chromebooks would be an understatement. It is not just a laptop, it is an opportunity. The Golden Leaf grant, along with our matching funds, would help level the playing field for our students. I believe it is moral imperative that we provide our students with these devices. They are competing across the state and the country, we owe it to them to invest in their future.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.