With House and Senate sessions convening on Jan. 30, New Hanover County Board of Education members met during lunch on Tuesday, Jan. 15, to discuss priorities in the local school district with NHC Commissioners and North Carolina Representatives.
The meeting comes only 12 days after several of the same officials gathered to discuss legislative issues during
a caucus including local boards and municipalities on Jan. 3.
Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley asked the principals of local elementary, middle and high schools to converse with the board members or representatives at their tables while eating. He then gave a presentation about the current status of the schools in the county.
With 3,400 employees, New Hanover County Schools is the largest employer, second to New Hanover County Regional Medical Center. There are 1,560 teachers in the district and 25,376 students. Of those students, 658 are homeless.
“Often times, you would not know these students are homeless,” Markley said, adding that some are sleeping in their cars and the number has more than doubled from 300 two years ago.
The schools are 1,952 students over capacity, with numbers projected to increase.
The current budget is made up of 50 percent of funding from the state, 29 percent from the county and 11 from federal funds. Operational expenses have dropped from $220 to $205 million.
“They have stretched and stretched and stretched as far as they can,” Markley said. “That’s my concern, that they can’t stretch anymore.”
At the county level, NHC Schools lists the school bond referendum, a capital funding increase and School Resource Officer funding as a few concerns. At the state level, concerns include continuing efforts to improve teacher salaries and return calendar flexibility.
During a presentation, 2012-2013 Teacher of the Year Sabrina Hill-Black, an instructor at Williston Middle School, said her teachers made the job look easy.
“Now I know different,” Hill-Black said. “... It was because of them that most of us ended up where we are today.”
She conducted a poll of teachers throughout the county to see how they were dealing with budget cuts.
To make up for the lack of funding, teachers said they have been asking for donations, evaluating materials for effectiveness, reducing the cost of field trips, sharing buses with classes, taking virtual field trips, asking parents to purchase more on the school wish list and reducing paper costs with technology.
“We know teachers have always spent their own money,” Hill-Black said. “Teachers will continue to spend their own money for classroom supplies, a child’s lunch. … Despite budget cuts, we are still there for the students.”
Representatives Ted Davis Jr. and Rick Catlin and Commissioner Jonathan Barfield Jr. each spoke briefly to end the meeting about the importance of keeping in touch during the upcoming legislative and budgeting processes.