The proposed fiscal 2013-14 budget for the Wilkes County schools was heavily impacted by the state legislature’s failure this year to restore funds cut since 2008-09, said Dr. Marty Hemric, Wilkes school superintendent.
“I think there are many decisions in the state’s 2013-15 biennial budget that are supportive of education and move us in the right direction,” said Hemric, citing efforts to insure accountability of schools with student literacy as an example.
“But there are many other aspects of the new budget that are sending the wrong message to public educators and are more detrimental to public education than supportive—regardless of the intent of our lawmakers.”
Hemric said he is particularly concerned about state legislators not restoring “core funding” for public school systems and several matters involving the lack of commitment to pay in North Carolina for teachers and others in the profession of education.
“There have been so many decisions made in the state’s budget this year that the accumulative result is a perceived lack of concern and respect for public education, and especially our teachers, in North Carolina,” he said.
The new state budget includes no teacher pay raises for the fifth time in six years, which Hemric said caused North Carolina to rank last for teacher pay increases among all states and the District of Columbia.
“We have teachers with five and six years of experience still making the same salary as today’s beginning teachers…. The state can afford to improve the salary schedule for teachers and educators if the priority of restoring core funding to education was established instead of spending dollars on new ideas and special projects, such as pay for performance.”
He said base pay increases are especially needed for teachers due to cost of living, insurance and other expenses going up.
“Some of the new ideas and special projects are noteworthy, but we need to recover from the huge loss of core funding and lagging pay schedules before jumping into more ways to expand the budget,” said Hemric.
The legislature also ended teacher tenure and the policy of awarding a 10 percent pay increase for teachers when they earn a master’s degree, starting after the 2013-14 school year.
Hemric said he has questions and concerns about a plan, funded for its first year with $10 million in the new state budget, to give annual $500 pay raises to the top 25 percent of teachers in each school system.
“We have many more people than just 25 percent deserving an increase…. We should wait until we have restored base funding and have adequate resources to do pay for performance fairly and effectively before trying to implement the model present in the state’s budget,” Hemric said.
“Core funding” cuts
He said the 2013-14 state budget didn’t restore core educational funding lost through cuts since 2008-09. He said this included funding for teachers, textbooks, classroom educational supplies and other basic educational expenses.
He said state legislators aren’t considering that these funds weren’t restored when they say the 2013-14 budget had more for education than the prior year’s budget. The Wilkes school system alone got $4.29 million less from the state in 2012-13 than in 2008-09.
He said state funding cuts since 2008-09 led to the loss of over 100 Wilkes school positions, including 51 teacher assistants (from 126 in 2008-09 to 75 now), 35 certified teachers (from 484 ½ in 2008-09 to 449.25 now), 15½ central office administrative positions and three media assistants.
He said a $1.4 million federal grant awarded to the Wilkes schools for more school social workers, counselors and other support personnel resulted in no net reduction in these positions.
Job losses in 2013-14
Due primarily to the continuation of state funding cuts in 2013-14 on top of cuts since 2008-09, the Wilkes school system’s proposed 2013-14 budget includes the additional loss of eight certified teaching, seven teacher assistant, three media assistant and 1½ central office positions.
The proposed 2013-14 budget is scheduled to be presented during the Sept. 9 Wilkes Board of Education meeting in the media center at East Wilkes High School in Ronda.
Hemric said all of the Wilkes school positions cut since 2008-09, including those in the 2013-14 proposed budget, involved not filling positions left vacant when people retired or moved to other positions within the school system.
He said even more positions would have been lost if the Wilkes school system hadn’t been able to use federal funds provided through the American Recovery Act and the Race To The Top initiative to compensate for cuts in state and local funding.
Hemric said the Wilkes school system’s proposed 2013-14 budget overall is about $1.5 million smaller than the prior year’s budget due to non-recurring cuts becoming recurring cuts, the end of Race To The Top funding and a decision to use less of the school’s system’s fund balance after committing $1.8 million of fund balance to help cover state shortfalls and balance the fiscal 2012-13 budget.
He said the reduction also is due to about $176,000 less in enrollment-based funds from the state because of a small drop in Wilkes school enrollment in the 2012-13 school year.
Although certain state funding cuts for local school systems were supposed to end in 2013-14, he said, the legislature made them recurring cuts.
The Wilkes schools are getting $804,000 less than expected from the state for textbooks, classroom educational supplies and other needs in 2013-14. It includes about 76 percent less for textbooks and over 50 percent less for classroom educational supplies than expected.
Hemric said that due to reduced state funding in recent years, teachers often use their own money to buy educational supplies and local people and nonprofit organizations also help. Educational supplies include everything from bulbs in projectors and markers to science kits for hands-on learning.
“Now, going into the sixth budget year (2013-14) with cuts since the economic decline began, there has been an eroding effect on conditions for learning” in the Wilkes schools, said Hemric.
For example, he said, curriculum offerings have been reduced, classrooms have more students and there are more classes with a combination of grade levels.
“Middle school and high school class sizes have increased the most, but elementary classes have also increased.”
Foreign language classes were offered in the Wilkes middle schools and some Wilkes elementary schools earlier but not now. “This comes at a time when we know it is important to prepare students for life in a global community,” he said.
“Our capacity to give students quality experiences with exploratory courses in middle school has been challenged.”
There has also been a reduction in the number and variety of advanced placement and other more academically rigorous courses offered in the Wilkes high schools.
“Although we have much improvement to seek from our state leaders in supporting public education, and therefore the future of our youth and communities, I want to assure our students, parents, and communities that the teachers, staff, and leadership of the Wilkes County Schools will continue to be optimistic and dedicated to teach our youth successfully as they grow to become the leaders of our communities, state and beyond,” said Hemric.