LUMBERTON — Robeson County commissioners last week during a budget workshop failed to discuss an additional $3.4 million budget request from the public schools, two-thirds of which was to supplement pay for teachers and to put school resource officers at each school.
The school district is requesting $930,968 of the $3.4 million to be used to up teacher supplements by 1 percent, which would put it at 6 percent. For a teacher making $40,000 a year, the supplement would rise from $2,000 to $2,400 a year.
County officials say they received the request at the 11th hour, and instead settled on giving the schools what amounted to a $600,000 break on fees it pays
The Public Schools of Robeson County uses low wealth funding from the state to pay for supplements, not local tax money, providing 2.5 percent to teachers in November and 2.5 percent in June.
Teacher supplements have become a significant factor in recruiting teachers. The base pay for a beginning teacher in North Carolina for the 2016-17 school year with a bachelor’s degree is $35,000, a figure set by the state. From there, most school districts offer supplements, typically funded by local tax dollars, to boost pay.
Wealthy school systems, such as Wake and Mecklenburg, are able to pay hefty supplements because of their tax base, while rural and poor systems such as Robeson struggle to do so.
Of the five counties that touch Robeson and with which it often competes for teachers, the Public Schools of Robeson County’s supplement ranks fourth, behind Hoke, Cumberland and Columbus counties, according to data from the North Carolina School Board Association. Earlier this year, in an effort to attract teachers to fill the 80 vacant positions, the school board voted for a $1,000 signing bonus, half to be paid at the beginning of a contract and half at the end of the first year.
Commissioner David Edge said Friday that he thinks the commissioners should try to find additional money for teacher supplements.
“I think we need to do something for our teachers,” Edge said. “I just don’t know where the money is going to come from.”
Commissioners Raymond Cummings and Tom Taylor told The Robesonian that they have not yet reviewed the request that was not included in County Manager Ricky Harris’ recommended budget. Both, however, along with Commissioner Berlester Campbell, said they are sure the commissioners will consider the request when they meet on June 5 for a work session to finalize the budget.
“Whenever we get a request from the schools we give it serious consideration,” Cummings said. “But I don’t want to make a comment about this request until I know more about it.”
Harris said that it was possible that the commissioners were not aware Monday of the specifics of the school’s request. He said he had received a letter from the schools requesting the funding until the day of the work session, and the commissioners did not get a copy until their work session that night.
“I will make sure that the commissioners are aware of all of the information about the request when they meet for their next budget work session,” Harris said. “They have to decide what to do.”
The next workshop is June 5. The budget must be ready by July 1.
Shanita Wooten, interim superintendent of the Public Schools of Robeson County, believes the supplement is important in improving the local system, which trails its peers across the state in must education metrics, except graduation rate.
“We want to improve the supplement we offer to new teachers who are recruited to the Public Schools of Robeson County,” Wooten said. “I believe the supplement will not only assist in decreasing the number of vacancies but it will aid in retaining quality teachers and decreasing the turnover rate. We want to continue to be able to attract teachers who will help increase student achievement and continue moving the district in a positive direction.”
The commissioners did approve an additional $600,000 to their budget that will be used to give the school district free water and sewer for the entire year.
Kellie Blue, the county’s interim General Services manager and finance director, said Friday that the county is giving the schools the $12.3 million that state statute requires the Public Schools of Robeson County to receive from the county each year. The schools will also receive sales tax revenue in addition to the $600,000 in free water and sewer.
“This year the schools received about $4.8 million in sales tax,” Blue said.
School board member Brian Freeman is a longstanding, outspoken advocate for increasing teacher supplements. He contends that higher supplements would help keep quality teachers from leaving Robeson County to work in other school districts.
“I am disappointed that the county commissioners don’t want to improve the quality of education in our county. We can’t compete with Hoke and other counties due to our low supplement,” said Freeman, who used to teach in Robeson but left the system at least partly for better pay. “The county, the citizens of the county, need to hold the county commission accountable for not being willing to invest in education. I think if they paid teachers as well as they paid themselves we would have no vacancies.”
Freeman was referring to the fact that the county commissioners’ pay and benefits, when combined, are at the top of the state or near it.
Freeman also is calling on the commissioners to supply the additional $1.1 million needed to place a school resource officer in each school.
“We have a joint responsibility, the county can’t pass the buck. Our children need a safe and secure place to go to school,” said Freeman, who is in his first term. “A sheriff’s deputy keeps a neighborhood safe. There is no difference in that and school resource officers keeping schools safe.”
The full request from the Public Schools of Robeson County was for $3,340,289.30 and included five items: an increase to teacher supplements by 1 percent for $930,968; placing a school resource officer at each school for $1.1 million; a quality zone academic bonds and quality school construction bond annual payment; updating 16 maintenance vehicles for $262,000; and equipping 300 school buses and 15 school vehicles with GPS locating systems.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165. Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly