CHCCS Board Eyes Teacher Turnover And Tough Budget Cuts

CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board welcomed new and returning members on Thursday, but school officials are already eyeing tough budget challenges ahead.

Newly-elected school board member Andrew Davidson and returning members Michelle Brownstein and James Barrett took just a brief moment to celebrate after taking their oaths of office before the school board sat down to digest some sobering statistics.

Andrew Davidson takes the oath of office.

Andrew Davidson takes the oath of office.

Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told the board the district faces a $3.3 million dollar shortfall next year.

“We’re using fund balance this year to balance our local budget,” said LoFrese. “We have used all of our available fund balance and we’ll need to either receive more funds to offset that or we’re going to need to look at reductions.”

This is the third year in a row the district has used reserve funds to balance the budget, but that money will not be available next year. LoFrese stressed that this shortfall comes after years of cumulative budget reductions.

“We think it is important to remind folks that this is not a single-year event. We have been living in tough times for several years,” said LoFrese. “We’ve made $8 million dollars worth of reductions over the last several years.”

Administrators struggled last budget season to make up for cuts to state funding that would have paid for 37 teachers and 25 teaching assistants. In total, state funding to the district was cut by $4.5 million dollars.

In the past five years, the General Assembly only approved a single 1.2 percent pay raise for educators. As a result, North Carolina now ranks 46 in the nation for teacher salaries.

CHCCS Human Resources Executive Director Arasi Adkins told the board this is affecting the district’s ability to recruit and retain quality teachers.

“The point is we’re going to continue to lose teachers to other states and other fields if North Carolina doesn’t do something to raise teacher pay across the board,” said Adkins.

The turnover rate for teachers in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district is now up to 14.47 percent, the highest it’s been in nine years. While more educators are looking to leave the system, student enrollment continues to grow.

“At the elementary level this year, we have 265 seats remaining with respect to SAPFO, 88 at the middle school level and 100 remaining seats at the high school level,” LoFrese told the board.

School officials anticipate opening new middle school in five year’s time, but some hope large-scale renovations to older facilities can increase capacity and delay the need for a new school.

The school board will revisit these issues next spring as part of the budget negotiation process.  You can read the district’s 2013 Opening of School Report here.

CHCCS Asks Town Council To Consider Cost Of Growth

CHAPEL HILL- When the Chapel Hill Town Council and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board met together for the first time last night to discuss shared concerns, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt called for the school board to take a more active role in how the town plans for growth.

“We really need your feedback… to be more engaged in commenting on the impact of growth in our community on how well you’re able to provide your services to it,” said Kleinschmidt.

But long-time school board member Mike Kelley countered that growth is not what the district really needs.

“The best situation for the schools is stability, not to have to build new schools, not to have to redistrict, to move kids from one school from another and change those communities,” said Kelley.

Nonetheless, both council and school board members recognized that the district’s high-performing schools are a significant draw for Chapel Hill, and that school enrollment numbers are likely to continue to grow.

School board member Mia Burroughs has represented the district in the Central West planning process. She told the council the specifics of development aren’t as important to school administrators as the bottom line.

“Within our district, we’re not super-concerned about where the kids are,” said Burroughs. “What we are concerned about is how to do we pay for the schools and the operating costs, and that’s what we want you to be cognizant of, that when there are more kids, there’s a cost.”

Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told the council the district is already struggling to maintain aging facilities and that the cost of operating new schools continues to rise.

In light of that, Burroughs and others asked the council to examine the economic impact of residential development and consider what can be done to increase the commercial tax base.

At the same time, some are already looking ahead to where the next school will go. Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison suggested land-banking potential school sites across the district.

“With the astounding price of land in this district, we really have to pin down that land right now, so that in five or ten years it isn’t simply out of reach,” said Harrison.

This was the first time the two groups have come together to discuss joint planning efforts. The school board and council pledged to continue the collaboration through a series of future meetings and raised the possibility of forming a committee to facilitate communication.