Editor’s note: This is the third of three columns dedicated to education funding in Moore County.
On Tuesday, May 7, Schools Superintendent Dr. Bob Grimesey and I presented the school board’s approved budget request to the Moore County Board of Commissioners.
This year’s request represents the school board’s vision and, if granted in full, begins to reverse years of position cuts, expand supports to students and staff to meet deferred needs, and maintain current operations in the coming year and into the future.
Some may say that the request for recurring funds from the county commissioners is too high. I would argue, however, that Moore County Schools’ request for an additional $4.2 million in current expense funds is vital and directly tied to erosion of state and federal funding for public education.
Previous articles in this space detailed local and state public school funding challenges. In short, state funding for public schools deteriorated after the recession to the point that the state now funds 40 teachers and 66 teaching assistants less than before the recession. Combined with other position allotment changes, Moore County Schools lost a total of 59 state-funded positions at the same time student enrollment increased by 465 students.
To make up for the loss of state funding and to protect classroom positions, the school board employed a variety of strategies over the years to maintain positions, including using savings; eliminating positions and programs; and using current expense funding from the county.
These cuts and adjustments occurred as we have struggled to keep up with the local funding to cover expenses to educate charter school children who never attended Moore County Schools. In total, our charter school commitment tripled in the last 10 years to where we now expect to transfer $2 million from local funding to the charter schools in the next school year.
As you can imagine, something had to give. Last year we both divorced ourselves from using savings to pay for recurring costs and we cut 15 locally funded teaching positions. This year, the school board has decided enough is enough and has made a five-year plan to regain some of what’s been lost and make headway into deferred needs.
Our additional $4.2 million request in current expense from the county commissioners can be organized into five groups of funding. The first group is the amount needed to merely maintain current level of operations and would be covered by the current estimate of an additional $850,000 from the county manager. Funding would be used to cover the local cost of meeting the K-3 class size requirement, meeting state salary raises, and covering our expected increase in charter school enrollment.
Additional funds are also needed to maintain current operations beyond next year, restoring teaching or staff positions to lower class sizes in grades 4-12 and expand communication with parents, and expansion to meet deferred needs in mental health and other resource staff to support students in school. None of these areas can be considered within the current estimate from the county manager.
As a pragmatist, I know this is a large ask of the commissioners. As school board chair, however, my job is to make our needs known to those that have direct access to make a difference locally when our state funding in not supporting our needs.
I recognize the county is playing catch up too and has added staff, built infrastructure and established fund balances to meet growing demands in our county. In fact, over the past couple of years, the two boards have worked together with voters to create a vision to replace deteriorating school infrastructure with modern learning spaces for our students by passing a bond and a local option sales tax.
My hope is that we can continue to work together, leverage our county’s continued economic improvement, and advance to meet the needs of our growing student population. Our public schools are chronically underfunded by the state and we need our community and the Moore County commissioners to help turn the tide for the future of Moore County.