LAURINBURG — Scotland County Schools are expected to reduce teacher assistants’ hours to 88 percent for the upcoming school year upon input from members of the Scotland County Board of Education on Monday.
Jay Toland, the school system’s finance officer, briefed the board on the expected impacts of budget cuts made at the state level in a budget given final approval last week by Gov. Pat McCrory. Scotland County lost around $400,000 in funding for teacher assistants, with even larger cuts expected next year.
According to Toland, the school system will have to appropriate $414,000 in fund balance to keep teacher assistants working alongside teachers for 215 eight-hour days in the coming school year. Currently, the school board has around $1.5 million in unreserved fund balance.
To bring hours down to 88 percent, with teacher assistants working only the 180 days students are in class, for 7.5 hours per day, $138,000 in fund balance would be required.
Though no vote was taken, board members promoted caution, saving as much money as possible in the face of uncertain funding in the coming years.
“My concern is that we go back to 100 percent and then next year we’re having a conversation about going back to 88 or below, or we’re talking about decreasing the total number of people that we actually have, which to me is a problem,” said board member Jamie Sutherland.
Board member Darrel Gibson agreed.
“Looking at our ability to sustain and not playing yo-yo with them, personally I think it’s a no-brainer,” he said. “We have to do the minimum of 88 percent rather than jumping them up and then next year already knowing that we’re going to be in a deficit and not knowing exactly how far that’s going to take us.”
Board member Pat Gates questioned Toland about the possibility of working from 88 percent, but expanding hours to include one day each at the beginning and end of the school year to prepare with their classroom teacher.
“I just know that when you have an assistant, to be able to bring them in one day before and one day after is huge inside of an elementary world, just to become a part of it and the big picture,” she said.
The final decision on teacher assistant hours will be made by Superintendent Ronald Hargrave, who is expected to follow the board’s recommendation. Though a cut from the budget previously passed by the board, which would have reinstated teacher assistant salaries to 100 percent, 88 percent is an increase from the 2013-2014 school year, when teacher assistants worked only 83 percent of their base schedule due to the 166-day calendar.
Scotland County Schools will also lose $40,000 in state funding to at-risk students and $38,000 in state funds designated for digital learning. The elimination of state funding for driver’s education effective in 2015-2016, Toland said, may end the system’s ability to offer those classes for free.
Driver’s education is funded in Scotland County with $117,000 in state money, though the local school system is permitted to charge students up to $55.
“We don’t charge any children here for their first go-around, so what they’ve done … they’ve put it up to $65,” Toland said. “Either we’re going to have to pass that cost onto the student or we’ll have to absorb it.”
Toland told the board that pay increases for teachers, though averaging 7 percent, vary wildly across the board from 18 percent raises for fifth year teachers to less than 1 percent for those with 30 years of experience.
“There’s a huge variance between all the raises, and yes it does average out to be 7 percent, but it affects all teachers differently,” he said.
The flat raises for principals and assistant principals and non-certified staff, at less than $1,000, caused concern for the county’s future population of assistant principals, as Gates said that the difference between teacher and assistant principal pay is already minimal.
“If they’re only getting a step increase but some of these teachers are getting an 18 percent raise, I would be very curious to see how it compares to see if it’s going to make a difference as to whether or not we can expect teachers to come out of the classroom to go into that role now,” she said.
In other business, the board voted to endorse Assistant Superintendent of Auxiliary Services Larry Johnson’s proposal to further explore central relocation of Shaw Academy. The idea was proposed by Hargrave as a cost-saving measure.
Several buildings have been identified as prospects, including the former Wachovia building on the corner of Cronly and Main streets, which would be significantly cheaper to operate than the former Shaw School facility on Old Wire Road. Johnson said that building costs the school system $93,000 in utilities and transportation costs each year, while a downtown location would run less than $30,000.
If the plan comes to fruition, the school may also serve as an out-of-school suspension center for students suspended for more than three days.
“Their suspensions could be reduced: if they went for 10 days, it could be reduced to 7 if they agree, which reduces our out-of-school suspensions, would keep kids learning, and would keep kids actively involved in their education,” Johnson said.
Johnson also told the board that replacement of the A.B. Gibson Center roof, budgeted for the current year, may be postponed another year due to unexpected electric and energy costs related to the project. The $550,000 designated for that project will instead be spent to replace the roof at South Scotland Elementary School and to address the electric and energy issues at the A.B. Gibson Center.
“Hopefully next summer we can come back and do the roof because it will be a cheaper price due to the fact that we have addressed the electrical issues as well as the energy code issues,” Johnson said.
In other business, the board commended Spring Hill Middle School student Chancellor Byrd and Scotland Early College High School student Javonte Williams for their achievements at the national Technology Student Association conference in Maryland, and recognized school system speech and language pathologist Alisa Dial for her election to the N.C. Speech Hearing and Language Board of Directors.
The board also recognized Toland and staff of the school system’s finance department for being one of 11 school finance departments in the state to earn the N.C. Association of School Business Officials Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting, the Governor’s Finance Office Association Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting, and the N.C. School Boards Association Achievement in Financial Resource Management Award.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169. Follow her on Twitter @emkaylbg.