07/19/07 — Duplin commission, school board talk about teacher cuts

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Duplin commission, school board talk about teacher cuts

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 19, 2007 1:45 PM

With the Duplin County Board of Education picking a school facilities plan last month, the county commissioners scheduled a meeting Wednesday morning intending to discuss which projects were included and where they might find the money.

Instead, the discussion turned to the commissioner's 2007-08 funding of the school system and the reasons why 25 teaching positions were reportedly cut between this year and last.

The problem, school officials explained, is three-fold.

The first is a cut in the state's planning allotment for the county. The second is a reduction in expected lottery revenue. The third is the rejection of a $1.6 million funding request for local teachers by the board of commissioners.

The result has been an increase in class size in some schools and a reduction in programs at others.

"We took the state allotments (of teachers) to the schools, added some pieces and then that final number was the number the schools got. Then in the organizational plans, the principals had to squeeze out their sections to fill out the numbers. The problem is they've apparently never had to do that," said Carolyn Olivarez, chief financial officer. "When you don't have local positions, that's what you have to do. You have to live within the state guidelines and with what the state gives you.

"We're pushing class size to the state limit, but when we had these organizational meetings, no programs were cut when the principals left the room."

North Duplin Junior/Senior High School, however, is facing cuts in its science, math, physical education, Spanish and band programs -- a result Ms. Olivarez said shouldn't have happened.

"We need to meet with the principal and make sure she hasn't made these decisions on her own," she said.

The commissioners, however, were concerned by the news of the teacher cuts, having funded the school system the same as last year -- almost $6.6 million, plus another $750,000 for facility repairs.

The problem, though, was that unbeknownst to the commissioners, no local teachers were funded with that money in 2006-07 -- even though they were in the original budget.

Dr. Candace Turk, associate superintendent for human resources and operations, explained that because of the school system's financial difficulties, they ended up being forced to use other funds to pay for those teachers.

This year, Mrs. Olivarez continued, the problem with being "flat-funded" is that it does not take into account the inflationary increases in insurance, maintenance and other basic operating costs.

"If you're flat-funded and you have inflationary increases in the budget, then you're taking a step back," she said.

Commissioners L.S. Guy and Reginald Wells said, though, that the importance of that $1.6 million was not explained to them in the budget process.

They did, however, offer to go back and review the restrictions placed on the additional $750,000 the commissioners gave for facilities and any other possible funds that might be available.

The $1.6 million would have funded 22 teacher positions.