The Moore County Board of Education will decide on Monday whether or not to proceed with the sale of the old Aberdeen Elementary School campus to a Raleigh real estate private equity firm.
Pathfinder Investment Management, LLC was the highest bidder to emerge when Moore County Schools opened the bidding process in late July. Its $1.5 million offer is also slightly higher than the U.S. 1 campus appraised for late last year.
The district publicized that offer, and reopened bidding for 10 days to give any other interested parties a chance to upset it, last month.
John Birath, the district’s director for operations, told the school board during its work session on Tuesday at Union Pines that no additional bids were filed during that time. Though the absence of an upset bid legally concludes the process, the school board can still decide whether or not to pursue a sale to the highest bidder.
Pathfinder has already submitted a five percent deposit of $75,000 along with its original offer. If the school board votes to proceed with the sale, an additional $40,000 will follow to hold the property for inspection for up to 60 days.
“At the end of that, that money becomes non-refundable and goes into earnest toward the purchase of the property,” said Birath.
”If, at a later point, they are not able to develop and come to any kind of agreement for the development of the parcel as they had anticipated, they can then withdraw out of the agreement and sacrifice that earnest money and we would have to repeat the process again at that point.”
Pathfinder, which also owns the Town and Country shopping center on U.S. 1 in Aberdeen, will have 180 days to complete the transaction. Between now and then, its development plan for the property will likely go before Aberdeen’s town commissioners for approval.
Budget Impacts Reviewed
The school board also got an update on the district’s budget for this year, as well as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and $3.4 million in associated state and federal relief funding that Moore County Schools has received so far.
About half of those funds come with a Dec. 30 spending deadline, and have been tied to specific uses like student nutrition, digital devices and summer learning.
From the Governor’s Emergency Education fund, the district expects to receive another $327,000 for specialized mental health support and $142,000 for additional instructional support for at-risk students. That funding would expire in the fall of 2021.
Moore County Schools is also projected to end up with $1.8 million in CARES Act funding to spend at its discretion over the next year. School staff still aren’t sure how much of those funds will be available to help cover the district’s $1.5 million budget shortfall, though.
“We’re holding that in reserve as a last use, that way we can see what we can fund with other one-time sources and other places and use that $1.8 as a last resort, because it does give us the greatest flexibility of use,” said Andrew Cox, the district’s executive officer for budget and finance.
“What we still don’t know is what’s going to be needed to cover the unknown costs of the (state) guidelines for opening. We still don’t know what it’s going to cost us for opening under those guidelines; we’re still working through that and we don’t know how much of that $1.8 million will have to be applied to that.”
Moore County Schools is expecting another form of relief from the state in the form of a “hold harmless” exception to the state’s normal rules tying funding to enrollment levels.
State funding to individual school districts is largely based on projected enrollment, and isn’t adjusted either way as long as a district’s actual enrollment is within 100 students of that projection.
“What happens is, if a district misses their projected ADM that DPI projects by two percent or 100 students, during the fall of the year typically the November timeframe DPI takes back half of the money associated with what you missed,” Cox said
As of the first two weeks of school, Moore County Schools had just under 12,400 students enrolled: 3,682 in the Connect! Virtual Academy and 8,700 attending two days per week under a hybrid model in line with state guidelines during the pandemic.
That’s about 400 fewer students than the district had a year ago. This year, Moore County Schools was projected to enroll closer to 13,000 children. Cox said that such a discrepancy would, in a normal year, result in a mid-year state funding cut of about $1.5 million.
That’s the rough equivalent of 20 teachers’ salaries.
“All this would happen after they have been hired, they have been working in schools and we would have to cut these positions mid-year,” said Cox.
But a clause in the state’s latest coronavirus relief act suspends those rules for the current year.
“No matter if we miss or if we hit our target, we would not be reduced for this year and we will not be losing those teachers mid-year, no matter what our ADM is for this year,” Cox said.
The school board discussed a proposed salary scale for non-certified teachers that it can now hire at its three state-designated “Restart” schools.
The district applied earlier this year to start Restart programs at Aberdeen Elementary, Robbins Elementary and Southern Middle and received approval in June.
Schools deemed “low-performing” for two years out of three in a row are eligible to become what the state has called “Restart” schools. The program gives them many of the options available to public charter schools: calendar flexibility, greater discretion in how state funds are spent and freedom from state class size requirements.
Those exemptions also include the latitude to hire a certain proportion of teachers who aren’t certified, but have bachelor’s degrees.
“This can help with a number of different areas including staffing hard-to-fill positions as well as innovative positions,” said Mariah Morris, the district’s innovation and special projects coordinator.
“Historically they may find that it’s hard to fill a math position, for example. They can use this flexibility to hire a candidate that’s very strong in math with a desire to teach but may not be quite ready to begin that licensure pathway. Or they can create innovative solutions for different problem areas of their schools where they’re actually creating types of positions that have historically not been present in our schools.”
Administrators are proposing that those teachers be paid 15 percent less than certified teachers with similar levels of experience. So a non-certified Restart teacher with no teaching experience would be paid $2,975 monthly as opposed to a certified beginning teacher’s $3,400.
A non-certified teacher with five years in the classroom would be paid $3,500 per month under the proposed scale, where a certified teacher would be paid $4,000. The board will consider approving that scale on Monday.
“This is the first example we have seen of the flexibility of the Restart programs that are just now getting underway,” said Chairwoman Libby Carter.
“I know there are challenges in hiring, as you said, a math teacher or by chance someone who is bilingual, especially in the Robbins area where you need more teachers with a Spanish background to be able to assist in the classroom up there. If this gives us the flexibility to do it and put someone in a solid position where they might decide to go on and become certified teachers, then we all benefit.”