Moore County Board of Education March 8

The Moore County Board of Education heard public feedback by phone and email during its March 8 hearing on the proposed 2021-2022 budget.

Moore County Schools’ proposed budget for the upcoming year drew mixed feedback during a public hearing on Monday evening.

The Moore County Board of Education heard general support for the proposed $2.1 million local funding increase from eight parents, alumni, and school supporters during the virtual hearing. Where they broadly endorsed the budget itself, all who commented objected to the proposal that local school funding be tied to enrollment levels and fluctuations in state funding long-term.

Superintendent Bob Grimesey has proposed a 2021-2022 budget that totals $141 million, including $32.5 million from the county commissioners. That’s $2.1 million more than the county allocated to Moore County Schools for the current year’s operating expenses.

Federal and state funding comprise the bulk of the district’s budget, but most of that money comes pre-designated for specific line items. So the schools use their local operational funding, which can be spent at administrators’ discretion, to make up for shortfalls and add staff and services beyond what the state funds.

But the school board has to approve its budget request based on projections, since the county and state won’t adopt their budgets until later in the year. Moore County’s board of commissioners previously resolved to allocate 40 percent of the county’s revenue to Moore County Schools’ operating expenses, but that was not strictly observed and the commissioners abandoned the resolution last year.

Board Considers Funding Formula

This year the school board’s budget committee proposed another way to make local funding more predictable from year to year: a per-pupil local funding formula. New board member David Hensley, who is on the committee along with Chair Libby Carter and Vice-Chair Pam Thompson, suggested tying local school funding to enrollment in Moore County Schools and public charters along with increases or decreases in funding from North Carolina.

With Grimesey’s endorsement, the rest of the board is now considering the idea.

“For years, the way that the funding for all students in Moore County was done … when our budget is approved a certain amount of money is given to us that we distribute based on the number of students in Moore County.”

“What we’re looking for is a way — before, the county commissioners talked about 40 percent of the budget for us — that we can determine how much money we can expect from the county based on the money we are receiving from the state,” said board member Ed Dennison. “If the state money improves for us, then the county money will go with the same percentage. We haven’t worked that out in detail yet, but that’s the idea of it.”

So this year’s proposed local budget request is based on the 3.7 percent average increase in state funding to Moore County Schools over the last four years as well as projected enrollment increases of 100 students in Moore County Schools and 225 in public charters.

Andrew Cox, the district’s executive officer for budget and finance, said that with the proposed increase local funding would work out to a per-student allocation of $2,340 — or about $85 per student more than the current year.

Commenters Argue Against Formula

But those who wrote and called in to comment during the public hearing on Monday argued against that method as a way to determine local funding to public schools long-term. They said that a consistent dollar value cannot be applied to children with a vast array of individual needs.

Attendance in the board meeting room at Moore County Schools’ central office was severely limited due to social distancing requirements, but residents arranged to call in during the public hearing or have their emailed comments read aloud.

Jessica Christy-Bowman attributed her recent graduation to a school psychologist who developed an individualized education program in her first grade year that saw her through to high school.

“She didn’t throw me away because I couldn’t do math, and she made sure no one else could throw me away either,” Christy-Bowman wrote.

“Kids like me cost a lot of extra money. Really smart kids cost extra money, too. When you decide to put a set dollar amount on each of us that’s the same, you fail us all. Don’t do that just because it makes things easier for you.”

Others expressed concerns that tying local funding to what the state does might leave the district to cut staffing and services if the state cuts school funding in the future and has no mechanism to ask the county to help fill in the gaps.

“Turning over the county’s school budget to the political machinations of Raleigh make the entire school system partisan, and would require it to become involved in partisan politics in unforeseen and undesirable ways,” said Lowell Simon.

Karin Kent, a Pinecrest parent and longtime school advocate, pointed out that state budget decisions have already forced the district to make cuts to compensate. State funding increases tend to come in the form of higher pay for teachers and other staff, which leaves Moore County Schools to find funding to maintain similar pay for the 150 staff members who are paid with local funds.

Similarly, the state in recent years has cut down on local school districts’ flexibility in staffing kindergarten through third grade classrooms by ratcheting down on the maximum allowable class sizes in those grades. The state provides funding for teaching positions at each grade level based on the entire district’s enrollment, rather than by school.

So complying with the new class size requirements without commensurate funding has forced the district to move teaching positions from higher grades. Some local funds have been freed up when the legislature introduced new funding for art, music and PE teachers, but many classes in grades four through eight still have upwards of 30 students.

That willful disregard of reality is irresponsible and dangerous to the mission of Moore County Schools,” Kent wrote. “Longtime students of funding cannot see this (per-pupil funding formula) as a good idea. Where is the detailed analysis of the deleterious warehouse effect or the effect of unfunded state mandates? Where has the recognition of the crippling effect of unreimbursed benefit inflation gone? Has the institutional memory of all the formula-focused cuts since 2014 disappeared?”

Both Cheryl Christy-Bowman and Alex Patti noted disappointment in their letters to the board that the proposed budget does not go so far as to request funding to add teachers in grades four through eight or otherwise improve school services.

The board cut 15 teaching positions to balance the 2018-2019 budget. That was the district’s final step in about $2.7 million in cuts starting in 2014 to discontinue its regular use of the district’s dwindling savings account. Those cuts included five central office administrators, the popular year-round calendar options at four elementary schools, and a Spanish immersion program at West End Elementary.

For the last two budget cycles, the board has approved a local budget request that would restore teaching positions to fourth and fifth grades. But those requests went unfulfilled in the county’s final budget.

“I appreciate the ask for increased dollars, but it concerns me that the money will only cover current costs and does nothing to add teachers to address the overcrowding in higher grades created by the (General Assembly's) unfunded K-3 class size mandate,” Christy-Bowman wrote.

“Having said that, I understand the political reality in this county and understand that asking for more from our county commissioners is a waste of time.”

The proposed $2.1 million increase would cover the implementation of a new pay scale for unlicensed support staff including bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers at $1.1 million.

“I commend you for prioritizing the classified staff salary scale implementation,” said Alexa Roberts, a McDeeds Creek parent and mayor of Whispering Pines. “I know this is a big portion of the budget request again this year, and for the third year I would say how important it is to ensure that classified staff are paid at rates commensurate to their service and that are competitive with our county and also nearby counties.”

Another $550,000 or so would go toward matching the salary increases that the state sets for all school employees, and to fund higher pay as teachers gain experience.

Moore County Schools also acts as a flow-through for county funding to local charter schools where county students are enrolled, and projects that disbursements to charters will increase by more than $500,000 next year as those schools add students.

But while the district is legally obligated to pass along local funds for charter school students at an equal per-pupil level to Moore County Schools students, some parents worry that transposing a similar formula to the district’s entire local budget will give charters a competitive advantage in the longer term.

“The county’s public schools will not be improved by consolidating bus routes, eliminating positions, cutting programs, inadequately compensating teachers and staff, or offering an exit path for a small, select group,” wrote Rita Ray, who has two daughters in Moore County Schools.

Laura McNeill said that Moore County Schools’ fixed costs wouldn’t necessarily change based on enrollment fluctuations of a few dozen students across 22 campuses. But the resulting loss of funding resulting from a per-pupil formula could be the equivalent of one or two teaching positions.

“In this free country, there are many families who choose traditional public education. In many cases, families choose Moore County for their excellent schools,” McNeill wrote. Those families deserve fully-funded schools, just as families who choose charter schools do as well. Public education is not a business. Students are not digits, and their individual needs are not line items. Capitalism should be taught in schools, not used to run them.”

View the Budget and Provide Feedback:

Moore County Schools’ online portal for public feedback on the budget will remain open until March 19. It can be accessed at www.ncmcs.org.

The board will vote on adopting the budget on April 12, the final meeting before the district makes a formal request of the county commissioners on April 20.

(8) comments

ken leary

"Capitalism should be taught in schools, not used to run them.” Just as slavery and feudalism were abandoned (somewhat) as either moral or economic failures as systems of organizing society, so has capitalism. It will be taught someday as a failed system that had its day. Unfortunately, some people still think we can commodify everything, including children and education. There is no consideration or recognition of individual needs if a uniform monetary price is placed on every child. That is definitely not in societies interest. It is ridiculous that the politics in Raleigh cut taxes in half for businesses and then starves the education system. Fix that. Why do my taxes go to pay for private school students? Did we get to vote on that?

Barbara Misiaszek

Actually some,not all, charter schools are public schools.

John Misiaszek

ken leary

Then why are they not called public schools? What makes them different such that they are called "charter schools." Can I start a charter school and teach that the world is 6000 years old and dinosaurs were saddle broken? It is really sad and unfair to saddle children with adult ignorance. I believe every school in France is just like every other school in France. M. Moore juxtaposed a French school lunch with a typical USA school lunch in one of his documentaries. It is a perfect metaphor for our education system.

Barbara Misiaszek

Just google"public charter schools'" You'll get your answer. They are publicly funded schools of choice ,government chartered.

John Misiaszek

Mark Hayes

I feel your pain, I did not vote for Biden, yet I am paying taxes that go to fund his illegal immigrants. As for the private schools, well if we can offer free healthcare, education, government assistance to illegal immigrants , surely we can send a few tax dollars to our own citizens that prefer to avoid the declining education system known as our " public schools ", most northern states are under Teacher Unions , see how that worked out in Chicago and California.

ken leary

How is it working out for children Mark? That might be a better question. You really have a thing for what you term "illegal immigrants." Why are you so determined to exhibit your cruelty toward other human beings? What do you have against a democratic system of organization in in which people provide for the needs of people? Is it that you don't think it is achievable, or you just need someone to feel better than. If so, don't feel too bad, it is a common problem among the frightened, neurotic masses, I wonder if a little education would help? Either that or you can strap on you 40 caliber like the Green guy and get your macho stroked by grocery shopper's avoiding asking you about not wearing a mask.

Mark Hayes

Ken, you have a much higher opinion of your opinions, than I. You obviously have a mental problem. Why do you continue with this facade of intellectual superiority, you were, and probably still are, household repairman , remodeler, handyman. I made my living in commercial construction, 40+ years, worked with well educated engineers, never met a weirdo like you, and if I did , I fired them. I like wood working as hobby, and more than likely have more wood working equipment in my shop than you do in that little pull behind trailer you use as an office. You read a few books, reword what others have written, you recommend readers on selection of authors, and spend the subscription fee here to pose as a well informed individual, you are as phony as a Chinese Rolex. Ken I have feared, but none like you. Your toxic, go save the world stay, out of mine. Have a great day, keep that nose pressed in those books , find another to share your grief with, we have absolutely nothing in common, or left to talk about .

Barbara Misiaszek

The School Board proposes a budget they believe will facilitate public school education at an appropriate level, a level which will enable them to achieve their educational goals for our students. Then the County Board of Commissioners makes their decision as to the amount of funding they will provide, too often at a much lower funding level than requested by the Board of Education,thereby interjecting their opinion, maybe standards, into education here in Moore County. Most often this decision is made to keep the property tax rate 1 cent lower. This system is wrong. School districts shouldn't have to go to the County Board of Commissioners to get their funding.They should be able to go directly to the voters and get them to pass their budgets every year through a budget vote.

John Misiaszek

Welcome to the discussion.

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