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Pate agrees that schools need better funding model

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 13, 2012 1:50 AM

School districts in this state have been doing more with less for too long, and that needs to change -- starting with reversing a legislative decision of how teachers are paid, said state Sen. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, a member of the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee.

At a recent meeting, the committee heard from superintendents in Alleghany, Jones, Lee and Forsyth counties on the impact the economy and this year's state budget had on their respective school systems.

One outcome of the session was the recommendation to postpone a proposal that would change the way school districts pay 10-month employees.

The "School and Teacher Paperwork Reduction Act," passed last summer by the General Assembly, would eliminate prepayment of salaries, effective July 1, 2012, pushing the first paycheck of the school year from Aug. 31 to Sept. 15.

The anticipated gap in pay dates would present a financial hardship for many, educators had argued.

"They were not going to pay them for a full month's pay," Pate explained. "That upset their budget planning, so we have heard from a lot of teachers across the state. It was not that it was unnecessary. They understood the need for it but they said they needed some more time to plan their family budget.

"As a result of that, this committee is going to recommend that we forgo that this year and give them enough time to plan their budget."

Pate said he anticipates the matter will be discussed further at the short session of the legislature this month.

"That language is still probably going to be worked out," he said Tuesday. "Right now the sense of the committee is that we reinstate the previous system pending further study."

During the presentation by the superintendents, Pate said each provided a different perspective of what is going on in their respective districts. But all shared a common concern.

"I think it's well understood that they all, all the school districts, are scraping for money," he said. "That of course impacts what they're able to accomplish.

"The one theme that came out, they all said that they were getting the job done, they're doing more with less, they have tightened their belts as the rest of the state has had to do, they're really doing all they can do with the current level of funding."

All four mentioned the ramifications of the way funding from the state was doled out.

"In fact, the state is using a mandatory management reversion, I think it's called, and they allow the superintendents and his or her staff to make adjustments and meet this amount that has to come back to the state," Pate said. "That started several years ago. It's still continuing and that's what they're scared of, that it will continue that way.

"We can't continue down that path without doing some damage to the system. And we have got to look at that quite carefully this year."

Pate said he is sensitive to the issues mentioned, particularly since his wife is a retired teacher, from the Wayne County Public School system.

"I know what the school system's going through," he said. "We have tried as best we can to see that every dollar is spent in the classroom and on education."

The senator hinted that there are signs that the economic climate may be about to change toward a more positive direction.

"I hope that our financial picture, the economy for the state is beginning to show some signs of life," he said. "We were just a little bit ahead of our projected revenues prior to our April 17 date (when income tax starts arriving in Raleigh). I hope that means there will be more income tax receipts coming in, that it helps us out immensely."

One noteworthy thing did surface during the session with the superintendents, Pate said -- the evident pride each expressed despite the financial constraints placed upon educators.

But that cannot be sustained forever, he noted.

"They have been very flexible within their school districts and are accomplishing things -- graduation rates, lowered dropout rates," he said. "I think that was commendable. So, teaching is still going on but we do have to do our very best to give them some relief."