At the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, the Macon County Schools System was operating with 712 employees. From teachers to teacher assistants to media coordinators, to bus drivers, to central office staff, Macon County Schools was operating with the highest number of employees it has seen in recent years.
Just two years later, the employment level throughout the district is down by 58 employees, to the lowest level in recent memory, according to board members during Monday night’s monthly meeting, and with continued uncertainties surrounding state funding for public education, the coming year will likely see little improvement.
Long-serving board member Tommy Cabe deemed the last few years as the hardest he has ever experienced during his tenure. “When I was first elected to the board, things were simple," he said. “These last few years have been hard and we have had to make some of the most difficult decisions of any board, ever.”
Cabe’s declaration of the board’s upcoming difficult decision comes on the heels of discussion brought to the attention of the board by Franklin High School teacher John deVille during Monday night’s public comment period. DeVille, who is an active member of the North Carolina Association of Educators addressed the board regarding his concerns with the coming year’s funding levels from the state.
Although the state General Assembly was supposed to reach a budget deal by the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1, the House and the Senate have been in a gridlock over, among other things, public education funding. Focusing on teacher salary and funding for teacher assistants, state officials have been unable to reach an agreement on what is in the current year’s budget. Although both House and State leaders tweeted on Saturday that a framework had been agreed on, Macon County Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin noted that local districts have no official word on what kind of funding to expect from the state this year.
According to Dr. Baldwin, media outlets across the state are reporting that teachers will receive a 7.2 percent raise under the General Assembly’s budget, and teaching assistants will be retained. Dr. Baldwin’s concern is that although a raise is being reported, the actual dollar amount the state is allocating to K-12 education is remaining unchanged, meaning that school districts may be left to make significant cuts to provide the mandated raises.
“While we are grateful that our teachers are being recognized for being deserving of a raise, and we completely agree that they deserve it, right now we have no idea what areas are going to be cut in order to have to fund those raises,” said Dr. Baldwin. “We want the community and our teachers to understand that we – this board – is not making these difficult decisions to retain or eliminate positions based on our teachers performance or because it is what is best for our students, because it is not. These decisions will have to be made strictly due to lack of funding.”
Of the 58 fewer employees reported across the district, the school system is currently advertising vacancies for six positions. Dr. Baldwin explained that in most cases those six positions have people who are ready to be hired, but without certainty from the state, the district cannot fill those positions despite the Aug. 25 school start date.
In addition to the six positions currently begin advertised, two significant retirements at the central office will not be replaced to account for two of the 58. Pat Davis, Macon County Schools Director of Testing and Accountability will retire Aug. 1, and the bulk of her duties will be given to Nancy Cantrell.
Earlier this summer, the district’s Title I Elementary Curriculum and Instructions Director Carol Waldroop retired and instead of hiring a replacement, the district will contract with former employee Carol Arnold. “We were fortunate that we were able to secure the services of Carol Arnold on a contract basis to fill some of the functions that Ms. Waldroop performed for our district,” said Dr Baldwin. “Ms. Arnold has a wide range of experiences including Title I Coordinator, EC Director and School Board member.”
DeVille expressed his appreciation for how hard Macon County teachers are working, despite the lack of funding and support from the state level. “We're providing 28th best education with about 48th best in per pupil funding equals N.C. public education is a hell of a bargain for taxpayers,” said deVille.
State lawmakers are expected to have a draft proposal for review on Thursday. Once approved by both the House and the Senate, the budget would need the approval of Gov. Pat McCrory. McCrory proposed his own budget earlier this year, which is far different than the current proposal being debated in the General Assembly.
“I look forward to the days when we have to debate about which programs to put more money into instead of which ones we have to cut,” said Dr. Baldwin.