03/27/07 — Duplin schools ask for more money to stay even

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Duplin schools ask for more money to stay even

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 27, 2007 1:57 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County school superintendent Dr. Wiley Doby and chief financial officer Carolyn Olivarez presented their plan for a $75.3 million 2007-08 budget to the county Board of Education last Monday.

Of those desired funds, $12.3 million -- $1,369 per student -- likely will be requested from the county Board of Commissioners.

Last year, despite asking for $10.5 million, the county's appropriation ended up being slightly less than $7.6 million -- $843 per student.

This year, Ms. Olivarez explained, because the state is projecting the county to have about nine fewer students and because of the state's conservative budget estimates, Duplin County is already facing a funding reduction of about $675,000 -- including four teaching positions and one instructional support position.

It's also facing a federal funding reduction for personnel of about $347,000.

Add those reductions to the increases in retirement and health insurance, Ms. Olivarez continued, and the school system is already starting out the year in the hole.

"This is our best guess right now, but it'll take a million-plus just to stay even," she said.

Those numbers won't be final, though, until the General Assembly passes the state's budget, possibly by July 1.

Also, before any local money is allocated, both the board of education and the commissioners must first give their approval.

The school board likely will make its decision on Tuesday, April 3. Its budget request is due to the commissioners by Wednesday, April 4.

During their presentation, both Doby and Ms. Olivarez said they felt like they were coming before the board this year with a good budget.

"We believe that in order to spend your money wisely, you need to spend it in pursuit of your vision," Doby said as his administrative team broke down their spending plan based on the school system's beliefs, critical expectations and goals. "We believe it is important to spend our money and focus it in the direction we need to go."

Among the projects they want to focus on with the new budget is the establishment of the James Kenan School of Engineering -- a special 100-student high school focusing on science and technology on the James Kenan High School campus.

Both the state and the county will be expected to contribute about $500,000.

"We think this is a ground-breaking effort. More and more, we feel there are students whose needs are not being met in the traditional high school setting," Doby said. "We feel, over time, that STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) schools can contribute in a very positive way in our county."

Another new initiative school officials are hoping to begin is the "I Can" program for sixth graders.

The "I Can" program, Doby explained, is a life and study skills course, designed to help students transition from elementary to middle school and learn how to be successful. It's scheduled to cost approximately $237,775.

"It's a lot of money, but I think it'll provide dividends for our students and our school system," Doby said. "If we can teach them these things early, I think we can really help kids."

Other new spending plans included nearly $1.4 million to upgrade and expand science and computer labs and other technology equipment, as well as another almost $400,000 to hire new literacy coaches, translators, English-as-a-second language teachers and other personnel at the county's most at-risk schools.

Those initiatives will be paid for through a mix of state, federal and local funding.

Associate Superintendent Dr. Randy Shaver also explained that they're hoping to use an additional $118,400 in federal money to implement a new staff development model focused on delivering instruction to students in practical ways -- something, he said, too many education degree programs don't do.

This particular program, he continued, has helped other districts increase their numbers of grade-level proficient students by an average of 20 percent.

"I've seen this work. It's not going to happen overnight. It's going to take two to three years before we realize our investment, but this approach is going to revolutionize instruction in Duplin County," Shaver said.

But the key to any program, assistant superintendent Dr. Candace Turk continued, is the school system's ability to recruit and retain good teachers.

To that end, they are looking to budget nearly $1.9 million in local funds for teacher supplements, sign-on bonuses, monthly outstanding educator awards, minority recruitment trips and a new scholarship program to encourage local students to come back to Duplin County to teach. Another $2 million in supplemental money will come from the state's low wealth provisions.

The school system also is requesting an additional $2.27 million from the commissioners for capital outlay.

Overall, Doby said, it's a budget that begins to address their most pressing needs.

"Schools are important in determining the quality of life in a community and in its economic development," he said. "The caliber of education we deliver will play a major role in the direction the county takes.

"There's an urgent and critical need in our school system for improvement."

And part of that need is meeting No Child Left Behind's 100 percent student proficiency requirement by 2014. Right now, Duplin County is at 63 percent.

"We've got to go up 37 percentage points between now and then. That's six short years," Doby said. "We believe this budget proposal is not a quick fix and doesn't necessarily address everything, but we feel it addresses the key issues in our school system.

"Money is not the key to everything, but it does solve a lot."