As state lawmakers wrangle over a budget agreement, nearly 100 teaching assistants in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system are in limbo, waiting to find out if they’ll still have jobs when school starts.
Arasi Adkins is the Human Resources Director for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. She says 79 local teaching assistant positions will remain unfilled until state budget negotiations are complete.
“Their livelihood is hanging in the balance,” says Adkins. “They’re waiting to be re-hired. We’re kind of holding on, so this is extremely difficult for them [and] it’s extremely difficult for us in terms of staffing. It’s been a very challenging summer.”
Last year, in response to state budget cuts, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools hired new teaching assistants on one year contracts that the district paid for using reserve funds. Now, school officials say the district has run out of reserve funds to cover the shortfall, and they’re waiting to see what, if anything, the state will do to help pay for teaching assistants.
“Because there’s such a huge variance in the House version of the budget and the Senate version of the budget, it really is difficult to do anything other that wait,” says Adkins.
Negotiations between the state House and Senate are stalled as legislators debate competing spending plans. The House version calls for a five or six percent raise for teachers while the Senate wants to push that up to 11 percent, but pay for those raises by cutting teaching assistants.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board is waiting until July 17 to adopt its local budget for next year. In anticipation of further cuts to state funding the board has identified two levels of potential budget cuts.
The first tier would bring the budget in line with the House plan. It would require $850,000 worth of cuts, including the loss of 4.5 gifted education specialist positions.
Depending on the final budget, a second round of cuts could be necessary. That would mean eliminating the district’s service learning coordinator, cutting media assistants to part-time, losing three and a half more gifted education positions, and shifting some custodial staff to lower-paid contract work.
But some worry that a third round of cuts might be needed if something similar to the Senate budget is passed. If that happens, school officials acknowledge teaching assistant positions will be on the chopping block.
“We have identified two different tiers worth of cuts that don’t involve teaching assistant reductions at all, so that’s what we’re really hoping for. Beyond that we really haven’t discussed the number of teaching assistant positions that would be cut if we have to go to that,” says Adkins
State lawmakers on Friday canceled a planned negotiation session, prompting speculation that the General Assembly could walk away without a new spending plan. The state is currently operating on a two-year budget passed in 2013, so the lack of a deal wouldn’t cause a government shutdown, but Adkins says the uncertainty affects what the district can offer to entice new hires.
Most disheartening, she says, is the recent discussion in the Senate questioning the benefits of teaching assistants in the classroom.
“I mean, it’s July. If they wanted to bring up research about the value of teaching assistants, I really believe they should have spent more time last year visiting classrooms, talking to teachers, talking to their constituents about the value of teaching assistants,” says Adkins.”I’d really argue that anybody who questions the value of a teacher assistant should be required to do substitute teaching in an elementary classroom.”
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board meets on Thursday to discuss the budget, but whether or not the board will have a budget to approve remains to be seen. In the meantime, many local teaching assistants have no choice but to wait and see.http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/ncga-budget-impasse-leaves-local-tas-limbo/
Depending of which version of the state budget wins favor in the General Assembly in the coming days, Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools could be facing between $850,000 and $3 million dollars worth of budget cuts.
The school board held a special meeting on Tuesday to review options for dealing with those cuts. Elected leaders said the focus should be protecting the student experience in the classroom.
“Right now we’re trying to preserve the core education for our kids,” said board member Michelle Brownstein.
All agreed the House plan, which maintains funding for teaching assistants and includes a 5 percent pay raise for teachers, is the best case scenario. Still, it would require $850,000 worth of local budget cuts, including the loss of 4.5 gifted education specialist positions.
A second round of cuts could be necessary if the General Assembly adopts a budget similar to the Senate’s spending plan.
That could include eliminating the district’s service learning coordinator, cutting media assistants to part-time, losing three and a half more gifted education positions, and shifting some custodial staff to lower-paid contract work.
While all that would trim nearly $1 million dollars, officials acknowledge that’s not enough to account for the shortfall in the Senate’s budget proposal, which calls for an 11 percent pay raise while slashing funding for teaching assistants.
Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told the board hiring for 80 teaching assistant positions is on hold until the state’s final budget is approved.
“We’ve been preparing for this for over a year, and so the teaching assistants that were hired all throughout last year were placed on interim contracts, and while we’d like to hire them back, we’re not going to do so until we have clarity,” said LoFrese.
School board officials hope to sign off on the budget July 17, but they say another emergency meeting could be needed if the legislature unveils any last minute surprises.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-schools-limbo-awaiting-state-budget/
Orange County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a $200 million dollar budget that includes a 2-cent property tax rate increase.
The property tax rate for next year will be 87.8 cents per $100 dollars of assessed value, the first increase in five years.
The additional revenue will go to support education, as both school districts are braced for funding cuts from the state that will likely translate to a reduction in teaching assistants.
The chairs of both the Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school boards came before Commissioners to thank them for the increase.
Orange County Schools Chair Donna Coffey said the additional local money is not a windfall for the district, merely a patch at best.
“There’s still a great bit of uncertainty coming out of Raleigh and the budget hasn’t been finalized,” said Coffey. “At the very least I think we’re going to face more cuts, which will mean a lot less funding from Raleigh.”
Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chair Jamezetta Bedford agreed.
“We don’t know what the state is going to do but it won’t be good,” said Bedford. “Our TA allotment is also the most critical piece that could be cut, well over 50 positions in the State Senate proposed budget. So this increase in taxes really will help us.”
Board of Commissioners Chair Barry Jacobs reminded the audience that the two school districts have seen a combined loss of $42 million in state funding in the past five years.
The 2014-2015 county budget goes in to effect July 1. Legislators are still hashing out the final version of the state budget.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/orange-county-approves-2-cent-property-tax-rate-increase/
Tonight at 7:00, the Orange County Board of Commissioners holds a work session (at the Southern Human Services Center) to continue discussing next year’s fiscal budget – including, perhaps most notably, the question of funding for Orange County’s two school districts.
The current proposal (with no property tax increase) includes a $2.9 million combined increase in spending for Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools – but the two districts face a combined shortfall of around $7 million. Local officials are also watching the budget debate in Raleigh, where legislators are considering at least one proposal that would eliminate funding for teaching assistants in grades 2 and 3 (among other things).
Many local residents have called on county commissioners to raise the county’s property tax rate to fully fund the school districts’ budget requests, but county officials have been reluctant to raise a rate that’s already relatively high (fifth-highest of North Carolina’s 100 counties).
With all of that (and more) in mind, WCHL’s Aaron Keck sat down on Tuesday with County Commissioner Penny Rich, who’s also a parent in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district.
Listen to their conversation.
Local leaders don’t yet know what the final state budget will look like, but they all agree- things are likely to get worse, not better.
“It would be a disaster, I think, to cut $6 million dollars from our budget,” said Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board member Mike Kelley. “It would just be a completely different community.”
Kelley and other officials from Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools came before Orange County Commissioners on Thursday to detail how state cuts could adversely impact education.
The proposed senate spending plan will take a bigger bite out of local budgets, costing Orange County Schools an extra $2 million and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools an extra $3.6 million on top of the district’s $2.7 million dollar shortfall.
The plan also calls for increasing teacher pay by cutting teaching assistants. County schools would lose 35 positions, city schools would lose 57.
The state House has not yet released its budget proposal, but with legislators promising to wrap up the short session before school ends next week, county leaders say they’re in a position to make last minute changes to the local budget if necessary. Still, they say they can’t possibly afford to undo all the damage school officials are bracing for.
“We can fill holes but we can’t fill craters,” said Board Chair Barry Jacobs. “So I would be surprised if we can address all of the cuts that y’all have just described.”
Looking ahead, Commissioners, including Penny Rich, said it might be time to revisit the county goals for school funding.
“We keep saying this year is different than every other year, but I think this year is the beginning of what it’s going to be like,” said Rich. “So we do need to change the process, because, perhaps we can put a band-aid on it this year, but what happens in year two, three and four?”
County Commissioners will hold two budget work sessions next week before adopting the 2014-2015 budget on June 17.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/schools-county-limbo-awaiting-ncga-budget/
The Southern Human Services Center was awash in a sea of crimson Thursday night as more than 300 parents and teachers wearing red for education turned out to the budget public hearing to ask Orange County Commissioners to fully fund both school systems.
“We’re tired of seeing our kids’ education become a political chew toy. We’re tired of teachers not making a living wage,” said Jeff Hall, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro PTA Council. “We’re tired of hearing that next year is the year we do something, next year we’ll raise revenue or cut costs, next year we’ll fix old or overcrowded schools. There isn’t ‘next year.’ We’re insisting, we’re demanding, frankly, we’re begging you to fully fund our schools.”
Hall was one of forty speakers who addressed the board before a standing-room-only crowd. Outside the boardroom, the building was filled to capacity, with supporters standing shoulder to shoulder lining the hallways. Still more waited on the lawn after the fire marshal was forced to turn them away.
The county manager’s proposed $195 million dollar budget for 2014-2015 does include more money for Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools than last year, but the plan falls short of what each district requested.
The Orange County school board requested an additional $2.9 million dollars next year, while the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board asked for an additional $3.9 million.
Under the county’s current budget plan, Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools could lose 22 teaching assistants. Kim Talikoff is a fourth grade teacher at Estes Hills Elementary. She told commissioners teaching assistants are vital to the success of her students.
“I will not be able to compensate for what I am about to lose if we don’t act now to fully fund TAs,” said Talikoff. “So I ask you please, provide the funding we need to make our shared objectives possible. Please put TAs in every classroom.”
The recently released state Senate budget proposal also has education supporters on edge, as funding for teaching assistants would be cut in half, resulting in the loss of 57 teaching assistants in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro system. Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told commissioners the Senate plan would more than double the district’s budget gap.
“In the current scenario, we would need to make reductions of over six million dollars to balance our budget,” said LoFrese. “We felt that it was important for commissioners to know this, and know that both school districts will be under a tremendous amount of pressure. We reiterate our request for your strong continued support and increased funding.”
To increase school funding, commissioners have the option of raising the countywide property tax rate, raising the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district tax, or dipping into the county’s fund balance. The manager’s plan already calls for $8.5 million worth of fund balance money to balance the budget.
Board Chair Barry Jacobs reminded the crowd that Orange County elected officials have long supported public education. He thanked the parents, teachers and students in the audience for their advocacy.
“Unlike the North Carolina Legislature, we actually want to hear from the public,” said Jacobs, to much applause.
The board will discuss the budget at a work session on Thursday, June 5. The final budget is scheduled to be adopted June 17.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/hundreds-call-bocc-spend-schools/
If approved as written, next year’s county budget will be the sixth in a row without a property tax rate increase, but Interim Orange County Manager Michael Talbert told the Board of Commissioners that streak can’t continue for much longer.
“This trend is not sustainable, obviously,” said Talbert. “There will be tax increases in the future.
The $195.6 million dollar budget is about 4.2 percent larger than last year’s, and it’s balanced using $8.5 million from the county’s fund balance. Talbert said the amount of reserve money required to balance the budget keeps going up each year.
“In 2010-2011, the Board appropriated $401,000 to balance the budget,” noted Talbert. “This year, it’s $8.5 million. A considerable difference, but the budget is balanced.”
The 2014-2015 budget includes money for a two percent cost of living and merit raise for county employees and funding for an engineering study to bring sewer service to Rogers Road.
When it comes to school spending, the budget proposal allocates $92.3 million, nearly three million more than last year, which amounts to an additional $95 per student or a total of $3,364 per pupil.
But the plan doesn’t fully fund the budget request from either school district. Board members have the option to raise the county-wide property tax rate or the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Special District tax rate to generate more money for schools.
Commissioners will host two public hearings on the budget scheduled for May 22 and 29. The final budget will be adopted by June 17.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/property-tax-rate-increase-bocc-budget-proposal/
CARRBORO- It’s been five years since Orange County residents have seen a property tax increase, but the question of when the rate might rise was on the minds of voters at last week’s county commissioner candidate forum hosted by the Orange County Democratic Women.
Barry Jacobs is seeking his fifth term on the board representing the county at-large. He told the audience that despite recent efforts to trim the budget, future tax increases might be necessary to fund what he called Orange County values.
“Schools are expensive,” said Jacobs. “People in Orange County want quality public education, we raise taxes to pay for the schools. We don’t apologize for it. Not everybody likes it.”
Challenger Bonnie Hauser said she’d try to avoid a tax increase by re-prioritizing county spending.
“In the short term I’d work to re-prioritize our spending to meet the needs of our schools and avoid raising taxes,” said Hauser. “To me, that means funding schools first and cut or delay funding to government facilities and non-essentials to free up capital and revenue.”
Incumbent Earl McKee faces Mark Marcoplos for the District 2 seat representing Hillsborough and rural Orange County. McKee said he hopes to hold the line on property taxes for at least one more year.
“I’m not going to stand here and tell you all that we’re not going to raise taxes this year, or that we will never raise taxes again. Everybody knows I will be telling a bald-faced lie if I do that,” said McKee. “But I will work to try to find areas where we can do reductions, areas where we can wring a few more dollars out of different funds.”
Marcoplos said recent boards have been judicious in their budget decisions, a trend he’d continue if elected.
“I can’t think of anybody who has wildly raised taxes or wildly slashed taxes,” said Marcoplos. “It’s a process that has been done reasonably in the confines of the realities of the day, and I would be in that tradition.”
The future of recycling and solid waste disposal was also a hot topic, as the county is currently trying to find a new funding model for curbside recycling pick-up, while also searching for a long-term solution for solid waste disposal now that the landfill has closed. Marcoplos said he’d make solid waste a top priority.
“One of my key goals as a commissioner will be to work towards that comprehensive end-game,” said Marcoplos. “We need a [waste] transfer station in Orange County and we need a recycling station right next to it which will simplify the picking up of trash and recycling.”
McKee agreed, saying his thinking on the issue has evolved during his time on the board.
“I’m going to be quite honest with you, I don’t know how we’re going to do it,” said McKee. “I don’t know what the best way is, but I’m coming to the conclusion that we need to step back and look at this in a holistic way. We need to put it in a task force, to hire a consultant, which is something I opposed in 2010.”
Hauser said she’d like to see greater cooperation between the towns and county to reduce waste at schools and other institutional facilities, with an eye to regional solutions in the future.
“I’m disappointed that two years after deciding to close the landfill we still don’t have a plan for solid waste and recycling,” said Hauser. “In the short term, I’d like to focus on an interim plan to reduce waste that includes an inter-local agreement with the towns.”
Jacobs said the county is on the verge of signing a five-year contract with Hillsborough, Carrboro and Chapel Hill to collaborate on recycling services, but that going forward, locating a site for new solid waste facilities will be a challenge.
“One of our problems has been, especially recently, the towns have not wanted to work with us; they weren’t sure they wanted to have an agreement,” said Jacobs. “We’re about to sign a five-year agreement with the towns and the basis of doing planning going forward is, how do we do, in a cost-effective and socially just way, solid waste in Orange County?”
All four candidates are Democrats and there are no Republican challengers, meaning the race will be decided in the May 6 Primary. The candidates will meet again to discuss the issues at a forum hosted by the Orange/Chatham Sierra Club at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday at Carrboro Town Hall.http://chapelboro.com/news/election/orange-county-commissioner-candidates-talk-trash-taxes/
CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board approved a 10-year spending plan on Thursday totaling $16.8 million, but members acknowledged the Capital Investment Plan does not include an estimated $87 million in unfunded needs, including $45 million worth of basic repairs to the district’s 10 oldest schools.
William Mullin, Executive Director of School Facilities, told the board that $45 million would bring the aging schools up to current safety and accessibility standards, but would not increase student capacity.
Without modifying existing schools to add room for more students, administrators estimate the district will need a new elementary and middle school by 2020, at a projected cost of $80 million.
Mullin told commissioners the district is receiving about $800,000 annually from the quarter cent sales tax approved by voters in 2011. Half of that is earmarked for technology needs, the rest for repairing older schools. While that will add up approximately $8.8 million by 2024, Mullin said it is not nearly enough to address the district’s needs.
The school board will discuss aging facilities and school capacity at its planning retreat on Tuesday. Administrators will present the capital plan to the Board of County Commissioners later this month.
HILLSBOROUGH- Local food, crafts, music, an agricultural expo and a midway- these were some of the plans laid out by a work group that spent the last six months exploring the idea of hosting an Orange County Fair.
But commissioners voted 4-3 on Thursday to put those plans on ice, citing concerns about cost.
“Sure it would be fun, it’s a great idea. But it costs too much right now,” said Commissioner Alice Gordon. “That’s why I’m having a problem with it.”
Gordon, along with Bernadette Pelissier, Penny Rich, and Earl McKee argued the potential $189,000 price tag to plan the event was too high, despite assurances from the workgroup that the fair would likely break even.
The work group proposed a two-day event in the spring of 2015 at the Blackwood Farm between Chapel Hill and Hillsborough.
The group estimated funding would come from event partners, corporate sponsors, local governments and donations, but Commissioner Pelissier questioned if the committee’s budget was realistic.
Commissioner McKee said the county can’t afford to take on new projects at a time when schools are relying on more local dollars to compensate for state funding cuts.
“Part of our responsibilities is to make hard decisions. Every good idea does not have to be moved forward,” said McKee. “I’m not saying this is a bad idea, it probably is a good idea, if there were not other considerations for me that were not overriding considerations and education overrides everything.”
Commissioners Mark Dorosin, Barry Jacobs and Renee Price supported the fair concept, saying it would build community through out the county. Dorosin says he’s been hearing from people interested in the fair idea since he first suggested in during his 2012 campaign.
“Why I believe this is important is that there is not something that is for the entire county, and that is what this would be,” said Dorosin. “Everything about this is to focus on the local, to celebrate it, to highlight it, and also to show it off beyond the county.”
Former Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton and current Board candidate Mark Marcoplos also spoke in favor of the plan. Marcoplos urged commissioners not to get hung up on the logistics early in the process.
“I’m definitely pro-fair, I think it’s a great idea,” said Marcoplos. “It would be a great celebration of the county’s business, its agriculture, its history, its culture, its dance and music. It would be plain fun, and I think that’s a hard thing to measure.”
Nonetheless, the board voted not to continue planning efforts or hire a consultant to vet the workgroup’s plans. While the current plan was scuttled on Thursday, the board could revisit the topic of future funding for a county fair during the budget planning process later this spring.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/bocc-nixes-orange-county-fair/