04/22/07 — Duplin eyes money for schools in new budget

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Duplin eyes money for schools in new budget

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on April 22, 2007 2:00 AM

Despite the county school district's need for funds, Duplin County Manager Mike Aldridge isn't sure he can meet the Duplin County Board of Education's $12.3 million budget request.

Board of Education members met with the county's finance committee Friday to discuss the schools' budget needs for the next fiscal year. During the board's nearly two-hour presentation, school officials explained that some of the money would be used for establishing a magnate school of engineering at James Kenan High School, improving technology across the county and implementing new programs to empower teachers and students.

But the total requested by the board might be too high for the finance committee and the Duplin Board of Commissioners to manage, Aldridge said.

"It'll be difficult to make the numbers work," he said.

The commissioners unanimously agreed in February that the county needs to lower its property tax rate from 80.5 cents to 79 cents per $100 valuation before the Duplin budget is implemented on July 1. Other stipulations include that the commissioners can't spend more than $1.85 million from the county fund balance and giving county employees a 2 percent salary increase.

Last year, the Board of Education asked for a $10.5 million allocation from the county. The commissioners gave them about $7.6 million.

If the county schools were to receive the entire $12.5 million this year, Superintendent Dr. Wiley Doby said the goal is to use the funds to provide all Duplin students with a rigorous and balanced education that encourages a life-long love of learning.

"We believe the best school system comes from the empowerment of teachers and students," Doby said.

The Board of Education wants to use $500,000 in local dollars to establish the James Kenan School of Engineering. The school, which is considered a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) institution, would serve about 100 students from across the county.

The board also wants to use district improvements as a catalyst to build educated and productive students. But board members understand that aspect of their plan will be difficult to achieve, Doby said.

Duplin Schools are categorized as needing improvement because of low third-grade reading proficiency scores. Also, 10 of the county's 15 schools did not meet their Adequate Yearly Progress goals as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

That federal legislation also stipulates that students at a county's schools must be 100 percent proficient in reading and math by the 2013-14 school year. The Duplin school system currently has a performance composite of 63 percent, which is below the state average of 72 percent, Doby said.

"If we don't make large improvements, the state could fire teachers," he said. "But we do have a plan, and funding plays an important part of that."

The board wants to use about $240,000 in county funds to start an "I Can" initiative. The initiative would create a life and study skills course for sixth-grade students, Doby said.

The course would be a required elective that teaches students social skills, people skills, the importance of time management, organizational skills and how to improve their work ethic. But another important lesson in the course will be learning how to study, Doby said.

"We expect students to do well and have success in the classroom, but we don't teach them how to study. I think we can do that and help them succeed," he said.

Another way the board wants to improve education is to use about $120,000 for a results-driven education plan. The plan has two goals -- providing continuous professional learning for teachers and a consistent improvement of student achievement, assistant superintendent Dr. Randy Shaver said.

"We don't want teachers to be sages on stages. We want them to be guides on the side," he said.

The school system would also like to use an additional $1.4 million to improve technology and science equipment across the county. Instead of making children memorize information for a test, Shaver said he believes the increased use of technology will help teach children to retain the information they learn in class.

Aldridge said the commissioners would do what they could to provide for Duplin children.

"The board (of commissioners) has been a supporter of education, and I believe they will continue to do so," he said.

And that support will be vital in the coming years, school officials said.

"This budget is more about people than programs, but we have to have both," Shaver said.