Statewide education foundation collapses

Effects felt in Surry County

By Andy Winemiller - [email protected]

DOBSON — Surry County Schools are looking for ways to fill the voids created by the collapse of a statewide educational foundation.

Dr. Travis Reeves, SCS superintendent, alluded to the results of NC New Schools’ financial collapse as the Surry County Board of Commissioners considered its operating budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year, adding a mention of the loss of NC New Schools to his list of matters adversely affecting his district’s budget.

NC New Schools provided grants to schools in North Carolina through programs focused on developing a college-going culture. The organization also was contracted by some school systems for consulting services.

In April the organization shut down, giving its 80 or so employees less than 24 hours notice, according to another publication. NC New Schools filed bankruptcy, with debts owed of about $1.5 million more than the company’s assets.

In a subsequent interview, Reeves indicated his district will now wait in line with all others to which NC New Schools owed money.

The foundation did quite a lot for the district, according to Reeves. NC New Schools provided $5,000 to $10,000 for laptops, calculators and other educational supplies, paid for the textbooks of high school students taking college courses, provided leadership and instructional coaches for principals and teachers and even paid the tuition of some students taking online college courses.

Reeves said he’s not sure how his school system will fill those voids.

“I’m working to contact multiple foundations. We are trying to be creative,” said Reeves. “At the end of the day, our Board of Education is committed to creating the opportunity for personalized education and supporting the college-going culture.”

Reeves said the district may look at purchasing textbooks and ask Surry Community College to consider using the same textbooks for multiple years.

However, the immediate and direct result to the school system’s budget involves three positions Reeves feels are integral to supporting the college-going culture. NC New Schools had agreed to help fund a college liaison at each of the county’s three traditional high schools.

“We’re not positioned to take that on,” remarked Reeves.

Reeves said the organization had agreed to fund the entirety of the $180,000 associated with the salaries and benefits of the liaisons in for the 2015-16 school year. NC New Schools did that. In the upcoming school year, NC News Schools was contractually bound to fund 75 percent of the positions, then 50 percent the following year and 25 percent the year after that.

If all had gone as planned, Surry County Schools would not have picked up the entire tab associated with the positions until the 2020-21 school year; but, all didn’t go as planned.

“We are planning as if they are there,” said Reeves before explaining Surry County Schools hopes to collect what’s owed as a result of the bankruptcy proceedings.

“They contractually owe school systems across the state.”

Reeves said while the financial collapse of NC New Schools certainly will have effects on his district, many paths are still available to students, and students are taking advantage of them.

“This year students at our three traditional high schools earned more than 3,100 college credits,” said Reeves.

Though Reeves called the liaison positions “instrumental” in helping kids on their paths toward higher education, NC New Schools had no effects on funding for college courses at Surry Community College. State dollars still allow high school students to take classes at community colleges for free.

The county’s other two school districts, Mount Airy and Elkin City Schools, are unaffected by the collapse of NC New Schools.

Mount Airy superintendent Dr. Kim Morrison said Mount Airy opted away from using NC New Schools for any consulting and was never invited into any of the organization’s grant programs.

Dr. Randy Bledsoe, Elkin superintendent, said his district would have been affected had NC New Schools declared bankruptcy earlier.

“We had contracted with them two years ago,” explained Bledsoe. “They completed the services this year.”

Bledsoe said though his district wasn’t affected, the education community in North Carolina has been adversely affected by the financial collapse of the once prominent educational foundation.

“Across the state, districts utilized the programs offered by New Schools,” said Bledsoe. “Districts put money in with the expectation of receiving matching funds. Some were really counting on that matching money.”

The organization owes more than $950,000 to school districts in the state, according to a Raleigh News & Observer article. Emails show in June of 2015 NC New Schools executive director Tony Habit was made aware the organization (which had an annual operating budget of about $10.5 million) would face about a $2.1 million deficit.

Effects felt in Surry County

By Andy Winemiller

[email protected]

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

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