Your View: Guest Column - It’s time to support adequate funding for public schools.
BY MAURICE O. “MO” GREEN
Guilford County Schools (GCS) has the honor and responsibility of educating more than 72,500 wonderful, intelligent and diverse students.
During the last five years, while our community, state and nation suffered through the Great Recession, these remarkable students have endured massive cuts in public school funding, increased class sizes, paper shortages, rebound textbooks, broken equipment, leaky roofs and outdated technology.
Yet, despite more than five years of cutting resources, GCS students and staff continue to celebrate major accomplishments:
• Our high school graduation rate increased to 84.5 percent, the highest four-year cohort graduation rate ever achieved in GCS.
• In 2012, 19 GCS schools were named Schools of Excellence or Honor Schools of Excellence under North Carolina’s school accountability system, including the Middle College at GTCC-High Point and Southwest Elementary schools. In addition, 27 GCS schools, including Southwest and High Point Central High schools, Florence Elementary and Southwest Middle, were named Schools of Distinction. That translates to more than 33 percent of schools receiving the highest state designations.
• GCS honored the 16 most-improved schools in the district, based on their performance gains. The list included Montlieu Academy of Technology and the Middle College at GTCC-High Point.
• The Class of 2012, about 5,000 students, earned more than $139 million in scholarships, the most ever in GCS.
• 676 members of the Class of 2012 earned college level scores in four or more college level courses through the Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate programs and/or a “B” or better on equivalent college-level courses.
• More than 520 members of the Class of 2012 earned Service-Learning Diplomas for completing at least 175 hours of service-learning activities while another 350 members earned Exemplary Awards for completing at least 75 hours of such activities.
• We opened innovative and important schools, including the Middle College at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the STEM Early College at North Carolina A&T State University, the Haynes-Inman Education Center and McNair Elementary School.
• Allen Jay Middle: A Preparatory Academy will open in the fall of 2013 with its first class of 100 fifth-graders. The new magnet school will serve interested students who desire a challenging academic curriculum in a highly structured, yet interactive and engaging environment.
• The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro honored Andrews High with the Hubert B. Humphrey Jr. School Improvement Award, which recognizes schools for improving student achievement through sound educational practices, community outreach and collaborative relationships.
• And we transformed various previously state-designated, low-performing schools, including Montlieu Academy of Technology, Oak Hill Elementary and Wiley Elementary, into Schools of Progress, while the number of low-performing schools went from nine to one.
I have highlighted just a few stellar achievements to underscore just how well our public schools and public school students are performing in Guilford County.
Funding public education is primarily a state and county responsibility. This is reflected in my recommended operating budget of $629,085,238. Approximately 62 percent of our operating budget comes from the state, followed by local (county) funding at 31 percent and federal funding at nearly 7 percent. It is time we reward this performance with adequate funding and support.
That is why I am recommending that our Board of Education seek $13.6 million in new operating funds for the 2013-14 school year, as well as $10 million in capital outlay for school maintenance. The recommended request of the Guilford County Commission is $189.2 million, including the following three items:
1. An increase of $5.9 million to sustain operations. During the past three years, GCS has requested $13.9 million in increased funding, but has not received it. As a result, the district has absorbed $19.1 million in increased costs in various areas, including student enrollment at the district and charter school level, health insurance, retirement, utilities and hundreds of thousands of square feet of classroom and school space.
2. An increase of $3.4 million to cover the local portion of salary increase that may be approved by the state, up to 3 percent, for all employees except me. The funding also includes $1.08 million to recruit and retain quality employees and hard-to-fill medical and health care educator positions.
3. An additional $3.2 million to restore some cuts made as a result of the Great Recession. In the past five years, GCS has cut central administration and school-based positions, supplies, materials and professional development, as well as increasing class size by one student. This funding would undo the increase by .5 students per class by adding approximately 63 teacher positions.
In addition, the recommended budget also includes $10 million in local funding to support maintenance upgrades, security measures and support for school buildings and property. In 2005-06, county commissioners provided $10 million in capital funding to maintain approximately 9.5 million square feet of facility space. In 2012-13, GCS received $2 million to maintain over 12 million square feet.
The recommended budget lays out $13.2 million in potential reductions and redirections, which will help us deal with federal budget cuts, the impact of sequestration, unexpected situations and pay for strategic plan initiatives. These include literacy initiatives and the addition of a junior class at the Middle College at UNC-Greensboro and a sophomore class at the STEM Early College at N.C. A&T.
After five years of cutting resources, and after five years of doing more with less, I believe it is time to seek adequate funding to support our students. We need to fund our students’ education at a level that allows them to compete with others across the United States and around the world.
Ranking 46 out of 50 states in total per pupil funding is unacceptable; as is ranking 48 out of 50 states in average teacher pay, as a recent report by the National Education Association indicates.
We do not expect below-average performance of our teachers, principals, support staff and students; we should not accept subpar funding for something as critical as public education, especially when the futures of more than 72,500 children and young people are at stake.
I hope you will join me in speaking out in support of adequate funding for our public schools. It’s time.
Maurice Green is superintendent of schools for Guilford County Schools.
The next step in the budget process is for the Board of Education to conduct budget work sessions. The first is scheduled for April 22 at 11 a.m. The board will also hold a public hearing on the budget during the April 30 board meeting. The board will adopt the budget on May 14, and will submit it to the board of County Commissioners no later than May 15.
The superintendent’s full budget recommendation, the presentation to the Guilford County Board of Education, and Frequently Asked Questions about the budget process are available online at www.gcsnc.com/2013-14budget.