Commissioners, Board of Education
reach agreement on funding
By CATHERINE KOZAK
special meeting between Dare County’s Board of Education and Board of
Commissioners on Wednesday saw more comity than clashing of panels, as
members united on a new formula to fund schools as well as worry over
potentially crippling cuts in tax revenue from Raleigh.
was the suspicion exhibited during a commissioners retreat in February,
when the board members were threatening to cut the schools’ budget.
proud to say that we have stepped up to the plate and done the right
thing,” Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard said Wednesday.
in September, a committee of school and county staff held numerous
meetings to hammer out a plan for the county to fund the schools with
the same amount as last year -- $20 million -- plus an additional
amount of about $63,000 to cover the projected Consumer Price Index
That’s a significant change from basing the
appropriation on per-pupil costs, Dare County Manager Bobby Outten told
When they looked closely at the expense of
operating the schools, he said, it was determined that little of the
cost, beyond the state-driven requirements for staff, depended on
the number of students. That is, utilities and transportation
have to be paid no matter how many students there are year to year.
Of the $20 million the county budgets for schools, $15 million pays salaries and benefits.
basing budget adjustments on the CPI projections and expected number of
students, Outten said, while recalculating up or down every year, the
amount will even out over time.
“If you do that every year,
you’re paying for the actual cost of running the schools,” he said.
“The presumption is that unless some new-fangled thing can’t be taken
out of the base, you don’t get an increase out the of the
budget except through the CPI.”
Dare County has paid some of
the highest per-pupil costs –about $3,900 – in the state. Last year,
Outten told the board that county costs for schools has increased more
than 27 percent since 2006, while the number of students increased less
than 1 percent – an unsustainable situation.
the new budget plan, the “elephant in the room,” Outten said, is
whether the state decides to again raise teacher salaries and benefits.
But a bigger problem would be if the state follows
through with a proposal to redistribute sales tax revenue to poorer
counties, which would translate to millions of lost revenue for Dare
“If there is a $10- to $11 million swipe off our revenue,” he said, “then all bets are off.”
Woodard said that he expects legislation seeking the sales tax redistribution to be filed in Raleigh next week.
“And that is very scary,” Woodard said. “The reality is, we could not stand that kind of hit in Dare County.”
Not only would the county have to raise the ad valorem tax rate, he said, it would also have to cut $10 million from the budget.
as an informal summit between the panels, Woodard called the
meeting to address the issues raised by commissioners at the
Woodard told Board of Education members that he
was relieved to hear that consolidation of school operations and
maintenance has been considered in their budget process.
all have one goal in mind and that’s to provide our children in Dare
County with the best possible education,” he said. “I think you can
walk away this evening with a level of confidence that this board is
going to do what needs to be done.”
Ben Sproul, chairman of
the Board of Education, said that the months of work put into the new
school funding plan has cooled the tension that has flared up in
previous years –and as recently as last month -- between the panels.
“If they can stick to the formula,” he said, “then we have nothing to fight about.”
of the questions from commissioners centered on the recently-released
state grading of schools, which scored all of Dare’s schools as “B” or
“C.” The new ranking system is weighted 80 percent on achievement and
20 percent on academic growth. It replaces previous designations, such
as “Schools of Excellence.”
A school board presentation showed
that 70 percent of Dare’s schools were graded “B,” compared with 24
percent of schools statewide; 30 percent of Dare’s schools were graded
“C,” compared with 41 percent of schools statewide.
I see some of these schools that are not where we would like them to
be,” asked Commissioner Wally Overman, “what is being done to get those
Responding, Sproul said that the lower-performance
schools –Cape Hatteras Secondary School, Manteo Middle School and
Manteo Elementary School – were located in areas where more families
are economically challenged or disadvantaged. For instance, 64
percent of students at Manteo Elementary School qualify for the free or
reduced school lunch program.
According to the presentation,
the testing followed a new curriculum that began two years ago, and is
based on more rigorous material and advanced concepts for younger
students. As a result, there have been learning gaps and lower
test results statewide.
“It’s a blunt instrument,” Sproul
said. “It tells you how some of the kids did on some of the days . . .
This performance grade is more about the zip code than what is going on
in the classroom.”
But, at the same time, he said, Dare’s
on-time high school graduation rate is 93.3 percent – the second
highest in the state- and the high schools are in the top 10 for
English, math and biology scores. Despite 30 to 40 fewer staff
members than six years ago, he said, Dare is still “an exceptional
“We continue to be what other schools look to for guidance.”
All the schools, he said, have an intervention program in place to help struggling students.
But too much emphasis should not be put on the testing, said Commissioner Jack Shea.
“Education is a complex mental process,” he said, “and I just want to make sure we’re not teaching them to pass a test.”
from home, long-time board member David Oaksmith lamented the impact on
the learning environment of the increased numbers of students in the
“At the elementary level, those smaller
class sizes meant a lot to us years ago,” he said. “It wouldn’t
hurt to get a little more pre-K, too.”
Boswell said that she is worried that the average students are being
left out in the interest of the brightest or high-risk students. But
she lauded educators for the quality of the schools and urged more
engagement of the community in the school system.
having some very, very serious budget issues and nothing is off the
table,” she said. “I can guarantee you that as a board, we are going to
do the best that we can financially.”
Dare County tentatively plans its first budget workshop on March 26. The budget must be passed by June 30.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
To view a PowerPoint presentation on the state's schools Accountability Report, go to http://www.dare.k12.nc.us/UserFiles/Servers/Server_3878/Image/Final DCS Summary Accountability Report 2013-2014.pdf