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I got the surprise of my life when people were complaining about a DR editorial. You mean the BYH column is not the...

School board discusses proposed budget, teacher supplements

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Ethan Lenker

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By Amber Revels-Stocks
The Times-Leader

Saturday, April 20, 2019

A budget proposal for the upcoming school year dominated discussion at the Pitt County Board of Education’s meeting on Monday.

The board got a rundown on the 2019-20 budget prior to it being presented to the Pitt County Board of Commissioners.

Superintendent Ethan Lenker and chief finance officer Debra Baggett broke the proposal down into six sections: Impacts to budget, a proposed increase in county appropriation, a new money request, capital appropriations, one-time capital requests and long-range capital needs.

About 95 percent of Pitt County Schools’ local operating budget comes from county appropriations. The district is asking for a $4.1 million increase for a total of $43 million from the county. These numbers are tentative and may change before the presentation to the commissioners, according to Lenker.

Of the proposed increase, $1.1 million is for fixed costs. These are expenses the district has to pay, such as salaries and health insurance.

While the county’s allocation to Pitt County Schools steadily climbed in the last six years, it is not keeping track with the district’s fixed costs needs, Lenker said.

“It will take a little over $1 million for us to stay whole,” he said. “(In the last six years) we’ve received almost $1.4 million under our requests to meet fixed costs. Something’s got to give. Unfortunately, last year, it was 10 teaching positions … and six clerical positions. You just don’t lose that kind of money and not lose something.

Lenker acknowledged the commissioners’ efforts to meet district needs.

“The county commissioners treat us pretty well because we’ve never had a major drop (in funding). Nothing like the state average dropped in 2015,” Lenker said. “The funding has been pretty consistent, and we saw some increases in the past.”

Teacher supplements also were discussed. While the state provides funding for teachers’ salaries, most districts provide supplements to attract educators and reduce turnover.

The school board wants to see a 10 percent supplement for Pitt County teachers by the 2022-23 school year. Now it is discussing how to get to that point.

Lenker and Baggett showed the board a chart depicting the average teacher supplement for nine surrounding counties compared to Pitt County Schools. Teachers in Nash/Rocky Mount Schools receive a 10 percent supplement or about $4,657 per teacher and educators in Wilson County Schools receive an 8 percent supplement or about $3,729 each.

Pitt County Schools offers a 3 percent supplement for beginning teachers and a 5.25 percent supplement for proficient teachers, which averages out to $2,262 per teacher.

“I live in Pitt County, but I don’t work in Pitt County,” said school board member Tracy Everette-Lenz, who works as a school psychologist in Wilson County. “(It’s) not because it’s not a great community and great school system, but when I can get paid substantially more with a supplement that’s essentially an additional month’s pay — you’re talking thousands of dollars difference.

“That’s why I’m not working here,” Everette-Lenz said. “(Pitt County Schools) is a great school system to work in but I have three children. Money and working conditions are two things to keep me employed in a school system.”

Chairwoman Anna Barrett Smith said increasing supplements may lead to better working conditions.

“There’s a lot of suggestions that if a system has great principals in place, staff will stay,” she said. “When we recruit teachers, we’re recruiting our future administration.”

The school board is looking at implementing a step schedule to raise supplements until they reach 10 percent.

School board member Benji Forrest recommended asking for a 6 percent supplement for the 2019-20 school year because the county commissioners could fund it without having to raise taxes.

However, school board member Amy Cole suggested asking for 8 percent, saying it would show teachers the board was serious about the increase.

Smith advocated for a 7 percent supplement, saying she had informally polled several teachers and was told that would be a meaningful increase for them.

“As a teacher, (an increase) from 5.25 to 6 (percent) isn’t enough to keep teachers here,” Cole said.

Forrest noted that he is a former teacher

“If I got 6 (percent) and my boards are working toward me getting 10 (percent), I’m shouting ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Praise the Lord.’ … It’s easier for (the county commissioners) to find $1.2 million (needed for a 6 percent supplement) rather than $3.2 million (needed for a 7 percent).”

Vice chairwoman Betsy Flanagan recommended asking for a 7.5 percent supplement.

“Our responsibility is not what (the county) can fund without a tax increase but what we need,” she said. “Let’s split the difference between Amy and Anna Barrett and say 7.5 percent.”

School board member Mary Blount Williams recommended increasing the supplement over a three-year period, asking for 7 percent for 2019-20, 8.5 percent for 2020-21 and 10 percent in 2021-22.

The board agreed upon that method.

Lenker and Baggett will present the proposed local budget to the county commissioners on May 10 in the commissioners’ auditorium.

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