The Scotland County schools could begin to suffer the effects of sequestration next year, officials said at the annual Board of Education retreat this week.
According to Finance Officer Jay Toland, the school system is likely to see from $380,000 to $600,000 in cuts to Title I funding in the 2013-2014 school year.
“Title I goes directly to the schools and the principals pretty much have that money to do what they feel best to help those low-income children achieve more,” Toland said. “So that’s really going to hurt at that level.”
But the schools are not projected to lose ADM funds, or average daily membership. That funding is based on the number of students enrolled, which has been decreasing steadily in Scotland County.
“For the last couple of years we’ve been losing 100 or 150 children, which has been translating into $1 million or $1.5 million, where this year they’re projecting us to be even, so we won’t feel that cut,” said Toland.
In the face of increased budget cuts, increasing classroom sizes by one and cutting teaching assistants’ pay will be considered for the future. Pay for TA positions was reinstated at 100 percent last year.
“We’re already eliminating some teachers at the high school because we had some extras when we had the transition from the multiple schools to one,” said Superintendent Rick Stout. “So we’re doing everything in terms of being prudent in terms of trying to get classroom sizes not too big, but in range. At the same time we know that we have TAs in second grade that are still out there. Do we cut second grade assistants or do we cut them back again to a percentage, that’s the question we have facing forward.”
The board also discussed the possibility of charter schools encroaching upon the school system’s public funding, particularly the statewide charter school North Carolina Virtual Academy.
Waddell International Elementary has also submitted an application with DPI to open a 700-student charter school in Scotland County.
Rush posited the idea of the school system starting its own online charter to appeal to homeschooled students.
“We could capture those children by doing a virtual online educational process through our own school system, a school within a school,” Rush said. “Why do kids stay at home, why do people teach their children at home as opposed to sending them to school? Most of them are social issues, and if they still don’t have those social issues and they get the educational opportunity, and we get credit for teaching them, why can’t that be?”
Board member Pat Gates, former principal of South Scotland Elementary, added that many teachers already employed in the school system are familiar with virtual courses.
“I know that there are some teachers in Scotland County who have written courses for virtual schools for elementary grades, and have sold them I might add,” said Gates. “So you’ve got the talent in Scotland County to get that done.”
The board also got a little hands-on experience with a software program designed to increase students’ reading proficiency. Michelle Gray, the schools’ teaching and learning coordinator, and Scotland High School Fast ForWord coach Barbara Morehead updated the board on progress made with Fast ForWord.
“It’s an online engaged opportunity for students to strengthen their cognitive skills through memory practices, attention opportunities, processing rates, as well as sequencing skill opportunities for students that are ages five and older,” Gray said. “The three main ideas are to engage our learners, to challenge them so that their dendrites will grow, and to encourage them not to be frustrated when it comes to reading.”
Regular Fast ForWord sessions are built into the elementary schools’ first grade curriculum, and older students who are below reading level or who score within five points of the Level 3 passing threshold on End of Grade tests also spend time working with the program. The program is in place in every school.
“My students are all ninth graders who placed Level 1 on their English 8, or they’re just well below grade level in reading,” Morehead said. “Every day what I do is go in and check reports, and if a student has what’s called an intervention plan, then I’m able to look at the exact activity that they’re having trouble with.”
Amber Trivette, a ninth-grade student at Scotland High School, spoke about the improvement in her reading after being in a Fast ForWord class.
“When I started Fast ForWord, I thought it was going to be no good for me, because it was just some games that were supposed to make us learn,” she said. “When I started it, I kept thinking to myself that this was not going to work. Every time I would go up a level or get a new set of games and activities, Ms. Morehead would be so happy and tell me great job.”
Of the 59 Scotland High School ninth-graders working with Fast ForWord, 24 have taken a followup evaluation to determine their progress. All but one have shown improvement, eight are now reading on their grade level, and two are now reading on a 12th grade level, Gray said.
With the completion of keyless entry system installation at I. Ellis Johnson Elementary this week, all system schools are accessible only by keyless entry, said Larry Johnson, assistant superintendent for auxiliary services.
Cameras have also been installed at Scotland High School in areas where security staff cannot easily monitor, such as stairwells.
“One of the things that the high school was having a problem with was a lot of dead areas on campus,” Johnson said. “We identified certain areas that we could place cameras and now we’ve put 12 to 16 new cameras in the high school.”
In disciplinary matters, 11 middle and high school students have been referred to Shaw Academy by their school principals: four at Scotland High School, five at Spring Hill Middle School, and two at Carver Middle School. That number is down from 20 at this time last year.
Currently 43 high school and 17 middle school students attend Shaw. Students are typically referred to Shaw after being in two fights on their school’s campus. Parents can appeal that referral to a committee of administrators, but the principal’s referral is usually upheld.
“It’s better to have them in school and maybe stuck in a closet than on the street,” said board member Paul Rush. “That’s what happened years ago: we put too many kids on the street, and they’re totally disruptive there as well.”
Johnson also reported on the state of the school system’s bus fleet, which currently numbers 75. That number is down from 85 in 2008-2009.
This year, 3,899 students are riding the bus to school on the morning or afternoon route, up from 3,768 in 2011-2012. The schools’ transportation program received $1.73 million in state funding for this school year.
“Our funding is determined by annual rider count, so it’s important that we get as many kids to ride our buses as possible,” Johnson said.
According to Transportation Director David Roller, 75 percent of the bus fleet is model year 2005 or newer and air conditioned.