LUMBERTON — The school board on Tuesday night walked back from a promise of investment in core instructional programs because of uncertainty over the exact amount of state and federal funding that the Public Schools of Robeson County can expect, money that is tied to student enrollment.
The board voted in May to buy math and reading instructional programs for all grade levels and vowed to find the money to pay for them.
“When we initially discussed it, we were initially hopeful of an August 2017 delivery date … having had additional discussions about financing and meetings with DPI (Department of Public Instruction), that process is not going to be that simple,” said Erica Setzer, the district’s chief financial officer. “With the absence of a state budget, the absence of a federal budget, there wasn’t enough things in place to have those things in place by the August date. So, we are talking with HMH and moving forward to delaying until January of 2018.”
HMH is the vendor from which the district plans to buy the programs.
After January the district will begin working with teachers on the professional development and training needed for implementation of the program, Setzer said. The rollout for textbooks and digital media for students would begin in August 2018.
“We’ve got some homework, so to speak, that we have to do to get specific funding and lay it out on the table, every program report code, how it is going to affect each individual school, which programs are going to be cut,” Setzer said.
The programs cost between $4.5 million and $7 million a year for the next three years. The exact cost depends on the number of students and the details of the package of materials the district wants to purchase.
“I really found out the total cost one week after the May board meeting, so … in the absence of a state budget and federal budgets, I don’t have concrete information to work on to say, from the Title I budget, we can allocate X amount of dollars,” Setzer said.
Title I funds are federal dollars allocated for education in economically disadvantaged areas.
The core instructional programs are a holistic approach that includes standard textbooks and digital books, technology, enrichment activities and professional development for teachers, all from HMH. The teaching of core subjects integrates different disciplines, with reading assignments referencing social studies and science work.
“I just want to make sure that we are committed to doing what we said we were going to do. It feels like we are doing a lot of back-peddling right now,” board member Brian Freeman said. “Parents have been notified via the newspaper. They are expecting textbooks … We need to focus on student achievement and quality education in this county, and we can’t do that without core instructional programs.”
Freeman talked of payment plans being set up for the materials, an option Setzer says is being explored by her office and HMH.
Board member Mike Smith suggested that a drop in funding for the schools could lead to a loss of school personnel.
“We don’t know how our funding will be affected by students not being here,” Setzer said. “Hurricane Matthew being a major factor.”
School officials say hundreds of students did not return to school after the hurricane as their families left the county. The exact numbers of students will not be known until registration is complete and classes begin, but reduced numbers could mean a reduction in state and federal funding and even lead to fewer teachers.
In other business, the board:
— Voted down a resolution lauding former Superintendent Tommy Lowry. The board voted 6-5 in January to buy out his contract, which ran through June 30, 2018. The board had been asked to present a resolution during Lumbee Homecoming. Lowry served the district in various positions for 38 years.
— Heard that The University of North Carolina at Pembroke is one of eight colleges that will set up a laboratory school designed to assist local school systems. The program is a collaboration between universities and underperforming school districts. The school, if set up like those currently underway at East Carolina and Western Carolina universities, would take about 75 students to start and operate much like a charter school.
— Heard the Beginning Teacher Support Program will begin in collaboration with UNCP in the new school year. Taking 50 first-, second- and third-year teachers, the program will provide professional development, weekend seminars and coaching with experienced university educators.
— Presented Sheri Dial Herndon and Shirley Johnson with Administrator and Teacher of the Year awards for the academically and intellectually gifted program.
— Named Nancy Stevens, a third-grade teacher at Janie C. Hargrave Elementary, Teacher of the Month.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly