05/31/07 — Commissioners hear budget request from school officials

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Commissioners hear budget request from school officials

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 31, 2007 1:46 PM

As the Wayne County Board of Commissioners met Wednesday morning to hear last-minute funding requests from various agencies, they made no decisions, but said the information gathered, especially from the public school system, would be helpful as they began going over the budget line by line today.

Funded in the commissioner's $108.8 million budget, is all of the county Board of Education's operating and capital outlay budget requests -- $18.6 million and $1.8 million, respectively.

What is not funded is its $12.58 million expansion budget request, and while the commissioners took time to go over the school board's operating budget line item by line item, it was that extra piece that occupied much of their time Wednesday morning.

"The expansion budget is a direct response to your requests," said county schools Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor. "I know this figure is kind of high. We sent you $12.5 million, but we probably could have sent you $20 million. A cap was not given to how much might be available."

But, he continued, the reason he, his staff and members of the school board were there in the commissioners' meeting room was to explain the programs behind the numbers and hope that they might be able to find some extra money as they move through the budget process.

The expansion budget was divided up into six focus areas.

The first was reducing the dropout rate, which included five programs totaling $1,870,000.

With that money, Taylor explained, the school system would be able to hire a dropout coordinator for each high school and the alternative school, provide after-school, Saturday and summer tutoring and transportation for at-risk and low-performing students and implement freshman academies at each high school.

Questioned closely by Commissioner Jack Best, Taylor said that he believed that if all those programs were implemented, they could likely reduce the dropout rate by 25 percent within three to five years.

Taylor also said that even if the commissioners weren't able to fund all of the programs, he believes it's important to try and find money for at least some of them -- a sentiment Best seemed to agree with.

"What we're trying to do is get to the minimum we can spend to get the maximum graduation rates," Best said.

The second area of the expansion budget called for $3,744,000 to improve test scores by hiring curriculum coordinators for elementary and middle schools to focus on reading, writing, math and science, testing coordinators for all schools, technology facilitators for middle schools and career academy directors for three high schools. The money also would go to a new exceptional children program, five mobile pre-K classes, a data warehousing computer system, a state standard course of study software system, staff development and English-as-a-second language classes for parents.

Commissioner Andy Anderson, however, wondered if perhaps between goals one and two, too much money was being requested for too many similar services.

"I see layering, layering, layering. You're hiring more people all the time to do the same thing," he said.

And while Taylor agreed that goals one and two do move toward the same target, he said they feel the positions are necessary to help get all their students there.

It was at that point in the meeting, though, that commission Chairman John Bell spoke up, saying, "(Taylor) is just trying to explain the programs they need to do their job and I think we need to listen to him."

After that, the rest of the discussion went fairly quickly.

The third area, which focused on socio-economic diversity through the School of Engineering at Goldsboro High School, Spanish, Chinese, German and Japanese language immersion classes and expanded implementation of the Wayne Early/Middle College, was budgeted at $1.3 million.

The fourth area, which focused on the recruitment and retention of qualified teachers, called for more than $2.3 million to increase signing bonuses for all teachers, with an extra bump for those in high-need areas such as math and science, as well as increasing the teacher supplement from 6.5 percent of the salary to 9 percent.

The fifth area called for $500,000 to provide additional performance bonuses to those teachers in low-performing schools.

And finally, the sixth area asked for $2.8 million to enhance security and create at least one technology-integrated classroom in each school.

It was, school board member Rick Pridgen said, a successful meeting -- even if the commissioners didn't tip their hands one way or another as to whether they might fund all, part or none of the expansion budget request.

"I think things went very well. I've been on the board ive years and I think that was one of the best meetings we've ever had," he said. "We addressed what they wanted us to address and presented it to them.

"I know there are other needs in the county, so I don't know that we'll get it all, but if they can give us any part, we'll utilize that money as far as it can go."

Bell agreed that the meeting had been helpful and said that as they begin going over the entire budget line by line today, they would definitely keep the school system's request in mind.

"It's a pretty lean budget," he said. "I would hate to say (if they'll be able to fund the expansion budget) at this particular time because dollars are short, but we're going to do what we can do."