Last updated: July 22. 2014 4:38PM - 748 Views
By Tanya Chilton tchilton@civitasmedia.com

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Elkin City Schools Superintendent Dr. Randy Bledsoe said he interprets House and Senate negotiations as being a stalemate after they came together recently, but have yet to reach a formal decision on the North Carolina Public Schools budget.

Bledsoe said, meanwhile, the school system waits hoping for some agreement between now and the end of the work week.

The superintendent said if an agreement is not reached, then last year’s biennium budget will be used.

Bledsoe said under the former budget, there were no teacher raises. In addition, Bledsoe said without a new budget, the adding or taking away in the area of personnel cannot be done.

Bledsoe defined the current situation as “a state of limbo” for the school system.

He said ECS already has assessed what needs to be done for next year with programs set up and ready to go. As a result, Bledsoe said, it can be difficult when there are only four weeks left to get it done before school begins.

“It makes it tough, at times, to plan when you are looking at the next school year and trying to best fit needs of school staff, students and programs,” when a system is still not in place. Bledsoe did say the schools have waited on late budget decisions before.

In the process, Bledsoe said, schools need time for the interview process. They also need to know they have funds needed for appropriate personnel, he said.

There are 115 systems in the North Carolina Public School System waiting for the budget decisions, he said.

Bledsoe said on a positive note, ECS has remained in the top five of North Carolina schools, when it comes to teacher retention rates.

Two years ago, ECS had the highest teacher retention rate in North Carolina.

“We are fortunate to attract great teachers to our district and by in large, stay with ECS.” He added, that fact continues to make a tremendous and positive difference in the area of learning for the state.

The North Carolina School Board Association recently released an “Update on Budget Negotiations” after meeting last week. It included a summarized version of where negotiations stand on K-12 public education budget items.

“A new Senate compromise budget offer was put forth at Tuesday’s meeting with some concessions on teacher salaries and teacher assistant funding,” reported the school board association. “With regard to teacher salaries, the Senate is now offering to move closer to the House position on the size of the pay raises. Instead of 11 percent average salary increases, the Senate is willing to move down to 8 percent, still above but very close to the House’s 6 percent number offered last week. .. Gov. McCrory last week threatened to veto any budget that contained the 11 percent package ‘or anything close to it.’”

According to the association, the Senate is proposing, as part of the 8 percent pay raise package, “a reform of the teacher salary schedule that aligns with what McCrory proposed in May — collapsing the 36-step schedule down to six steps, front-loading base salaries in the early years, and capping the maximum base salary at $50,000. This schedule would also provide step increases every three to four years instead of annually.”

The Senate’s latest offer also leaves state funding for second-grade teacher assistants in place and eliminates only third-grade teacher assistant funding in 2014-15. But the second-grade TA funding would not be a recurring line-item as the way it is being proposed, which means that money would be eliminated next fiscal year without legislative action.

The association reported, “Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) has floated a new idea for senators and the rest of the conferees to consider: giving school districts a pot of money, directing that a certain portion go to teacher salary raises of a set level, and allowing the rest to be used either for additional teacher salary increases or for funding teacher assistant positions at the local educations agencies discretion. The speaker touted this idea as a way to allow school districts to have the flexibility to decide where best to put state dollars.”

In addition, the release also addressed as another major sticking point in the negotiations as Medicaid reform. It reported the Senate’s recently presented Medicaid reform package as stirring up controversy.

Note card summary of current House and Senate proposals:

• In teacher salary increases, the latest Senate offer proposed an average 8 percent salary increase with a six-step schedule, while the House proposed an average 6 percent increase using the existing salary schedule.

• In the teacher assistant category, the latest Senate offer proposed to eliminate grade three teacher assistant funding, retain grade two teacher assistant funding, fund grades first and kindergarten teacher assistants and eliminate teacher assistant expansion for the average daily membership. The House proposed to fund kindergarten through third grade teacher assistants and eliminate teacher assistant for average daily membership.

According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, the Average Daily Membership for each school month is based on the sum of the days in membership for all students in individual North Carolina local education agencies, divided by the number of days in the school month. According to the department, to be included in ADM, a student must have a class schedule that is at least half of the school’s instructional day.

• Other K-12 cuts (unspecified) were proposed in the amount of $173,881,953 by the Senate; and $136, 507,778 by the House.

• Both the House and the Senate proposed $116,202,371 of additional proceeds from the lottery.

• In the concessions-made category, the Senate offer was to drop the tying together of teacher salary increases to relinquishment of tenure. The Senate also proposed to move teacher pay raise packages from 11 percent to an 8 percent average. The latest House offer went to the Senate number on additional lottery proceeds with an offer to move the teacher pay raise package from 5 percent to 6 percent average.

Tanya Chilton may be reached at 336-835-1513 or on Twitter @TanyaTDC.

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