ACS will weather budgets cuts for 2013-14

By Dylan Lightfoot Staff Writer

August 1, 2013

The General Assembly passed the new state budget July 24, with cuts to public education totalling $500 million over the next two years, but Ashe County Schools Superintendent Dr. Todd Holden thinks the school system can weather the storm for now.

“We’re good for this year. Nobody’s going to lose their job,” Holden said recently.

“No programs will be cut,” he said.

Statewide the budget cuts $286 million for classroom teachers this year by increasing class sizes, eliminates 3,850 teacher’s assistant positions and decreases by half funding for classroom materials.

For ACS, these cuts total $1,093,305 for the 2013-14 school year, including:

• $580,272 for classroom teachers

• $246,642 for teacher’s assistants

• $163,765 for text books

• $96,686 for classroom materials

Classroom sizes will increase from 18 to 22 for Kindergarten, and from 18 to 21 for grades one through three, with no maximum class size for higher grades. While classroom teacher cuts represent 10.5 teacher positions, no teacher layoffs are planned, Holden said.

The saving grace for ACS was the Small County Supplemental Funding (SCSF), which was not touched this year.

“That deals with equity. It lets us spend the same per student as (more populated districts). What we’ll use it for is those 10.5 positions for the year,” he said.

“I want to thank (Senator Dan) Soucek for helping fight for us on that,” he said.

The GA plans to reconsider SCSF for possible cuts during the short session next year, he said.

Discretionary reversion, which required school districts to give back a portion of their allotted budget each year, has been eliminated this year.

“With the help of the Board of Commissioners, the County Manager and the Board of Education, our teacher’s assistants will not be cut,” he said.

For the fifth time in six years, the GA put a salary freeze on teacher pay. In N.C. — which ranks 46th in the nation for teacher pay, according to the National Education Association base pay for a certified teacher with a bachelors degree is $30,800.

“I’ve got teachers who are working two jobs,” Holden said.

The budget also eliminates pay increases for teachers who complete Masters and PhD degrees. These salary supplements are worth approximately $300-600 per month for teachers, he said.

“Get ready for a teacher shortage,” he said.

“That’s going to kill us,” Holden said of the 50 percent cut for classroom materials, which is described in a Department of Public Instruction budget brief as a one-time “non-recurring cut” initiated during the last budget cycle which was “not restored” this year.

“We’re going to have cut corners,” he said, adding that Stuff the Bus and local donations would have to fill the classroom materials gap.

Driver’s education funding was cut $1,709,142 statewide. Some counties have already begun charging a $45-55 fee for driver’s ed, “but we’re not there yet,” Holden said.

Funding for charter schools

The GA appropriated $20 million over the next two years for charter and private school vouchers.

The Opportunity Scholarship Act provides low-income students $4,200 to attend private schools, and the Children with Disabilities Scholarship Grant offers parents of special-needs students $6,000 for homeschooling or to place them private schools.

While there are no charter or private schools in Ashe County, Holden said it is likely there could be one in the next three years or so. With the incentive created by vouchers, 22 new charter schools have formed in N.C. in the past year, with six started in counties that had no charter schools before.

According to a DPI budget brief, $11.8 million was cut from public education funding “for anticipated reduction” public school enrollment.

“They are going to be giving that to private and charter school that have no accountability,” Holden said.

“We’re going backwards,” he said. “But I feel like the teachers in this county can fill the gaps. These kids are the future of this county.”