Pitt County Schools has received a $16.2 million grant to bolster teacher incentives, district officials announced Monday at a board of education meeting.

Pitt is one of 13 districts in the U.S. chosen for the Teacher Incentive Fund grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The money will be used over the next five years to develop strategies aimed at recruiting, retaining and rewarding quality teachers as part of a program called “R3: Recruiting, Retaining and Rewarding Educators through Multiple Career Pathways and Performance-Based Compensation,” or R3 for short.

Tom Feller, co-director of R3 and the district’s professional development coordinator, said about 80 percent of the grant will go directly to pay supplements, like bonuses and incentives, for teachers and administrators. 

“For the county as a whole, that’s $13 million going straight into our economy,” he said. “So that’s a really exciting piece to look at.”

The program includes four elements, including two programs the district already has in place: the Key Beginning Teacher Program and Teacher Leadership Institute. The other two elements are performance-based pay and career pathways. 

“Career pathways provides opportunities for our teacher leaders to still be in the classroom teaching but also then be able to lead groups of teachers in different ways,” said Seth Brown, co-director of R3 and the district’s teacher support coordinator. 

Brown said the performance-based pay element will allow the district to reward top-tier teachers and further reward them for helping their colleagues improve. 

R3 will be available in most of the district’s 36 schools, according to a news release from the district. 

Budget passed

The board unanimously passed the 2016-17 budget resolution, which includes a total budget of approximately $233 million. About 58.8 percent comes from state funding, 17.8 percent from local funding, 8.1 percent from federal funding, 5.8 percent from special revenue, 3.5 percent from capital outlay and 5.9 percent from child nutrition.

About 77 percent of the budget will go toward salaries and benefits. Teacher salaries increased an average of 4.7 percent this year. State funding allowed for 1,069 teaching positions, and Pitt County Schools was able to add an additional 76 positions from other sources of funding.

Chief Financial Officer Debra Baggett said there are still some uncertainties because the district’s average daily membership is lower than projected. The state projected 23,685 students, but Pitt County Schools’ 10-day count was 23,326. Baggett said more recent numbers show an increase, but the district won’t know for sure until the 40-day average is calculated. 

Baggett also noted that the district’s funding has been impacted by the opening of another charter school in the district, Ignite Innovation Academy-Pitt. Ignite, which opened in August, is one of two charter schools in Pitt County. The other, Winterville Charter Academy, opened last year. Many charter schools outside the county have also drawn local students.

Since charter schools are public schools, they receive per pupil allotments that otherwise would have been put into traditional public schools. Baggett said this year, the district is losing about $1.5 million due to charter schools. 

Sixth-grade sports considered

The board also started a discussion on whether to allow sixth graders to play sports, with several board members saying they’d like to hear what parents and coaches think before making a decision. 

The North Carolina High School Athletics Association recently made a policy change that allows sixth-graders to participate in sports, except football. School districts can choose to opt out of sixth-grade participation. 

Pitt County Schools Athletic Director Ron Butler said the middle school sports teams are already pretty full, so additional teams likely would not be added at most schools. Rather, sixth-graders would be in competition with seventh- and eighth-graders for spots.

Butler said he is still gathering data from schools, but the 10 schools that have responded so far reported cutting a total of 945 students who tried out for teams in the last year. Board members raised a variety of concerns about allowing sixth-graders to play sports, including exposing them to concussions and the effect of not being chosen for the team on their self-confidence. 

Board members said they plan to gather feedback before taking action on the policy in early 2017. Butler said school sports officials have not expressed strong opinions on the matter. 

“None of the athletic directors said ‘that’s the worst thing ever’ or ‘that’s the greatest thing ever,’” he said. “They all said ‘we will do what’s best.’” 

Contact Holly West at hwest@reflector.com or 252-329-9585.