Additional reporting by Elizabeth Friend
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board members gather Thursday night to vote on the upcoming year’s budget.
The district’s website projected posting the budget proposal late last week, but due to the delay by the North Carolina Legislature on its budget decisions, the district pushed the release date to Monday. However, the proposal, which has one hour of the nearly four-hour meeting set aside for it, wasn’t posted to the district’s website until Tuesday morning.
Many concerns swirled around the General Assembly’s budget as teaching assistants were in danger of losing their jobs. Last year, in response to state budget cuts, CHCCS hired new teaching assistants on one-year contracts that the district paid for using reserve funds. School officials said the district ran out of the reserve funds to cover the shortfall, and they waited to see what, if anything, the state would do to help pay for teaching assistants.
With the passage of the $21.1 billion state budget, teaching assistants should be safe. However, some teachers aren’t happy with the final numbers.
Though some called the new budget “historic” for putting $282 million towards education, some educators themselves have criticized the new teacher pay plan.
That’s because longevity pay, the bonus once awarded to teachers with more than ten years of experience is no longer guaranteed. Instead, the new plan caps teacher salaries at $50,000 for those with more than 25 years in the classroom and rolls longevity pay into the base salaries.
This has some long-term teachers estimating their raises at closer to 2-4 percent, while starting teachers will receive a seven-percent boost. Those with half a decade of experience could see as much as an 18-percent increase.http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/chccs-still-working-budget/
RALEIGH – Common Core curriculum standards for North Carolina schools will be rewritten under a bill signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory.
Gov. McCrory signed the bill Tuesday along with four others. He said the Common Core bill does not officially repeal the federal standards but will review and improve them.
North Carolina is now one of five states that have changed or removed the Common Core standards from schools and are creating new state-specific ones.
The law directs the State Board of Education to rewrite the Common Core standards for the North Carolina’s K-12 schools. A new 11-member standards advisory commission will be formed to make curriculum recommendations to the board. Common Core, which schools began testing two years ago, would remain in place until the new standards are completed.http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/gov-mccrory-signs-common-core-changes-law/
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.
The North Carolina General Assembly is meeting in “short session” this year – but there’s been no shortness of controversy.
At the center of debate last week was the budget proposal released by State Senate Republicans, which includes more than $400 million for a significant hike in teacher salaries – but that raise comes (among other things) at the expense of massive cuts to teacher assistants in grades 2 and 3.
Already facing a multi-million-dollar shortfall, officials at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools say the Senate’s proposal would likely force the district to make even more cuts than they were initially planning – unless they can persuade County Commissioners to dig even deeper into the pool of local money. (Fully funding the budget requests of both the county’s districts would almost certainly necessitate a tax increase, though, which County Commissioners and county staff have been reluctant to impose.)
Meanwhile – though it hasn’t received as much media attention – local municipalities across the state are also contending with the repeal of a business privilege tax, which the AP reports could cost municipalities a total of $62 million statewide. Governor Pat McCrory signed the repeal on Thursday.
With those and other issues in mind, WCHL’s Aaron Keck invited Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board member James Barrett to the studio on Thursday, for a pair of conversations about the local impact of recent actions at the NCGA.
Teachers in North Carolina schools are among the lowest-paid in the nation, and state and local officials say that’s having a crippling effect on the quality of education in the state.
Governor Pat McCrory recently unveiled a plan to increase teacher pay, but school leaders say it’s not enough – and this week, State Representative Graig Meyer told WCHL that morale among teachers is lower now than he’s ever seen it in his career in public education.
Friday on the Afternoon News, WCHL will host a special forum on the teacher-salary issue. Aaron Keck will be joined by Arasi Adkins, the executive director of human resources at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools; Mary Gunderson, the district’s coordinator of teacher recruitment and support; and Christoph Stutts, a teacher at Carrboro High.
The forum will begin at 4:06 p.m. Tweet us your questions and comments @WCHL and we’ll address them in the discussion.http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/wchl-host-teacher-pay-forum-friday/
STATEWIDE – With teachers in North Carolina among the lowest paid in the nation, a grassroots effort is taking shape to persuade state legislators to raise teacher salaries.
“If (teachers) can go elsewhere and get higher pay, better benefits, and a feeling of better respect for the profession, they’re going to do that,” says UNC-Greensboro education professor Wayne Journell. He’s one of many North Carolinians who, just in the last two weeks, have begun to raise their voices publicly in support of higher teacher pay.
That issue, of course, has been a controversial one for months. Last year, as North Carolina dropped to 46th in the nation in teacher salaries, the General Assembly voted to cut salary bonuses for teachers who earned master’s degrees—while simultaneously reducing funding for teaching assistants and eliminating teacher tenure.
Critics argued then that those moves would drive good teachers out of the state. In fact Chapel Hill-Carrboro assistant superintendent Todd LoFrese said in August that the process had already begun.
“We lost a great math teacher to Kentucky,” LoFrese said then. “That teacher’s making $10,000 more in Kentucky than they would have made here on the North Carolina salary schedule.”
And it wasn’t only the established teachers who were leaving. At UNC-G, Journell says his students were beginning to look elsewhere too.
“And they said, ‘Why–given what’s going on in the state–why should I consider staying in North Carolina to teach?’” Journell says. “And honestly, I couldn’t give them a good answer.”
Journell says that’s why he picked up his pen—and wrote an open letter to Governor Pat McCrory last week urging him to take action to raise teacher pay.
And Journell wasn’t the only one.
On January 4, former Governor Jim Hunt wrote an editorial in the News and Observer challenging the General Assembly to raise teacher pay in North Carolina to the national average. Hunt says he himself led the charge to do just that during his tenure as governor—with bipartisan support. And while the effort was costly—$240 million per year—Hunt says it also paid off: between 1999 and 2001, as teacher salaries were increasing by 7.5 percent per year, he says student test scores were also rising faster than in any other state.
The General Assembly won’t be back in session for months, but Hunt’s editorial reshaped the debate, at least for now. Last week, an organization called Aim Higher NC launched an online petition to urge the GA to raise teacher salaries—and got more than 10,000 signatures in the first 36 hours. A survey from Public Policy Polling indicated that 79 percent of North Carolinians—including 66 percent of Republicans—favored Hunt’s proposal to raise teacher salaries to the national average. Governor McCrory too says he’s committed to raising teacher pay in 2014, though specific details still have to be ironed out.
And in Greensboro, Journell says his open letter got a big response.
“The next day when I opened up my email, I had a bunch of emails to go through,” he says. “I was kind of concerned that some of them would be saying, ‘oh, this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about,’ but all the emails I got were very, very positive.” (No response yet from Governor McCrory though, he says.)
It remains to be seen, of course, whether state legislators will ride the wave. Former Governor Hunt admits that any significant teacher pay raise will be costly—and while there’s bipartisan support for higher teacher salaries, Republicans in particular also remain opposed to any tax hikes.
But Journell says he’s hopeful that the current movement will have an impact in the end—and not just for the benefit of his students.
“You know, I have a kid,” he says. “She just turned one. She’s going to be educated in this state. And I want young, energetic teachers to be in North Carolina…
“I just don’t want us to drive them away.”http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/push-teacher-raises-takes-hold-nc/
CHAPEL HILL - Ten schools holding half the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district’s students need major renovations ranging from 10-40 million dollars each.
The CHCCS Board of Education presented summarized findings on the ten oldest schools in the district on Thursday.
Some of these schools include Culbreth Middle, Chapel Hill High, Carrboro Elementary, Estes Hills Elementary, and the Lincoln Center.
The Board of Education worked with Mosley Architects and Staff members to identify facility issues such as: building codes, HVAC systems, ADA and life safety requirements, environmental issues, and mechanical/electrical deficiencies.
The ten schools were found to have many common issues. Many of the buildings at these facilities are 50 to 60+ years old and need significant interior/exterior repair.
The 2013-2023 capitol investments plan budgets $20 million for all schools. Some of the extensive repair options for schools range from $10 – $40 million per school.
This week, we’ll be speaking with Chapel Hill-Carrboro Assistant Superintendent for support services, Todd LoFrese, about the needed repairs; Wednesday, October 2, tune in to the WCHL Afternoon News with Aaron Keck at 4:30 p.m. for a forum on the topic.
For more information you can view the BOE presentation here.http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/board-of-education-reviews-renovations-for-old-schools/
CHAPEL HILL – Members of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board meet Thursday to discuss how to improve aging school facilities.
Many schools in the area are more than 40 years old. Others are at full capacity, requiring multiple mobile classrooms on site to accommodate all students.
And a study of 10 of the district’s oldest schools show most need a full overhaul of the lighting, heating and air conditioning systems.
CHCCS board members will receive a report on conditions throughout the district, and discuss how to plan and fund repairs.
The board will also hear a presentation on the state’s new Read to Achieve program which goes into effect this year.
The school board meets at 7:00 p.m.at the Lincoln Center on South Merritt Mill Road.
CHAPEL HILL – Students across Orange County are headed back to school on Monday—and as the schools get ready to reopen, Chapel Hill-Carrboro chief technology officer Ray Reitz says the state Department of Public Instruction is rolling out a new student information system called Home Base.
“It’s a major statewide initative that’s impacting all 115 districts in the state,” he says, “and it’s one of the largest technology initiatives that the state of North Carolina has ever endeavored.”
Home Base is replacing the old student information management system, NC WISE. It’ll be used to manage student attendance, schedules, grades, and transcripts—among other things. Reitz says teachers can use Home Base to develop lesson plans, collaborate with students and fellow teachers, manage data, create assessments, and communicate progress reports to parents. And administrators can use it to manage and monitor professional development, which Superintendent Tom Forcella says is a priority for the district this year.
“We believe that Home Base will become a very powerful new tool to streamline the work of teachers and administrators,” says Reitz. “In addition, it will really help parents and students become more of an active participant in the educational process.”
The Department of Public Instruction is implementing the new system in several phases. Reitz says teachers, parents, students and administrators have access to the basic components right now; more components will be rolled out in October and March, and then again at the start of the 2014-15 school year.http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/to-manage-info-nc-schools-step-up-to-home-base/
CHAPEL HILL – As your kids prepare to go back to school on Monday, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School officials say they’re preparing for another tough budget cycle in the coming year–and they say it’s not going to be pretty.
“If additional funding doesn’t come in from Raleigh, we’d need to find the equivalent of about 30 teacher positions within our current operations,” says CHCCS assistant superintendent Todd Lofrese. “(That) would likely mean loss of positions, loss of programs, perhaps loss of jobs.”
School officials are already sounding the alarm about 2014 because they say the district’s fund balance has dried up. CHCCS has used that balance for several years to help offset the effects of state-level budget cuts–but Lofrese says that isn’t an option anymore.
“We’ve reduced our budget by $8 million, and we’ve absorbed over $4 million in cost increases over the past five years,” he says. “It would’ve been even worse if we hadn’t utilized our fund balance to help buffer these reductions–(but) we’ve now used all of our available fund balance.”
And so, heading into the budget development process for 2014-15, Lofrese says “we’re beginning with what we estimate to be a $2.2 million hole.”
That $2.2 million represents the money the district pulled out of the fund balance this year to avoid having to cut teacher positions. Without it, Lofrese says they may have to cut 30 positions in 2014. Teacher assistant positions could also be at risk: Lofrese says the district lost state funding for 25 TAs, and managed to preserve those positions in 2013 only by dipping into its own pocket. (Should that come to pass, Lofrese says the district would seek to cut vacant positions first—but layoffs are not entirely off the table.)
And Lofrese says the situation would be even worse, were it not for the strong support the district receives from county government.
“We’re very fortunate (that) we live and work in a community that has strong support for public education,” he says. “Our county commissioners continue to demonstrate that by providing the district with $4 million in additional funding this year.”
Lofrese says that funding enabled the district to fully staff the new Northside Elementary School while preserving existing programs–and even managing to reduce class sizes in fourth and fifth grade. Future county-level funding will also allow the district to preserve a few of the 40 teacher positions cut at the state level, even without the fund balance.
But the specter of state-level cuts still looms—and while Republicans in the General Assembly insist that this year’s budget actually increased funding for K-12 education, Lofrese says that simply wasn’t the case in Chapel Hill-Carrboro.
“Even after accounting for the elimination of the discretionary reduction, our district received less money from the state this year than we did last year, despite our enrollment increase,” he says. “I know there’s a lot out there in the media about whether public schools are getting more money this year or less money this year–we received less state money this year.”
(Other districts did see an increase in state funding, but Lofrese says even that increase wasn’t enough to keep up with the growth in the number of students.)
The effects of the budget cuts aren’t only felt in the loss of positions. Teachers in North Carolina have received only one small raise in the last five years, and this year’s budget also cuts pay increases for teachers with master’s degrees—and as a result, Lofrese says districts across the state are finding it harder to recruit and retain quality teachers.
That includes Chapel Hill-Carrboro.
“Just a few weeks ago we lost a great math teacher to Kentucky,” Lofrese says. “That teacher’s making $10,000 more in Kentucky than they would have made here, on the North Carolina salary schedule. We have a great local supplement, (but) despite our local supplement they’re making $6,000 more in Kentucky than they would have if they’d joined our district.
“That teacher would have had to work in North Carolina for 16 years to make the same amount of money they’re making in Kentucky this year.”
And in spite of the slowly improving economy, Lofrese says he doesn’t see the school funding situation getting better in the future.
“I don’t see the tenor changing anytime soon,” he says, “so we’re planning that budgets are only going to get worse at the state level.”
Still, as schools across town prepare to reopen on Monday–and Northside Elementary prepares to open for the first time–Lofrese says there’s still much to be grateful for.
“We’re excited to welcome kids back and to begin that whole process of teaching and learning that starts on Monday,” he says. “Monday’s a great day for a lot of folks across our community–especially the little ones.”
Monday marks the first day of school for CHCCS; the budget development process for 2014-15 begins in about a month.http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/chccs-officials-already-worried-about-loss-of-jobs-in-2014/