School budget seeks $1.5 million in new funds

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Person County Schools Board of Education spent time at its second straight meeting Thursday night, reviewing a proposed budget request to county commissioners that now seeks a 16-percent increase in funding over the current year.

The largest share of the increase comes in personnel costs. The school system is responsible for paying the salary of 40 locally-funded employees. It also pays a local supplement to both certified and classified employees. The budget calls for $700,000 in new spending for employees, including a 5-percent increase for local teachers, which would match the projected increase for state-funded teaching positions. It would also include a similar increase in the amount of supplements the county pays, because those are paid as a percentage of an employee’s salary.

School board members reviewed a number of options for increasing local teacher supplements. School finance officer Julie Masten presented the board with a trio of options, including a tiered system that would provide teachers with 6-10 years experience from the current 10-percent supplement to an 11-percent supplement. The supplement would increase to 12 percent for teachers with 11-15 years experience; to 13 percent for teachers with 16-20 years of experience; to 14 percent for teachers with 21-to-25 years of experience, capping out at 15 percent for educators with 26 or more years of experience.

But implementing that option would cost the school system about $468,000 per year, a figure that was too rich for school members’ blood.

“Eventually I’d like to see us move into the full tiered supplement plan, but with our needs, we can’t do it right now,” said board chairwoman Kay Allen.

A second option Masten proposed would increase the supplement by 1 percent per year over five years. That would serve to spread the cost out over time, but would cost the school system about $167,000 in the first year alone.

Masten’s third proposal, which met with the board’s approval, calls for increasing the supplement for teachers with 16 or more years of experience by 1 percent. That option would cost the school system $93,000, but it would reward the school system’s most experienced employees.

“I would like to look at Option 3 with 16 years experience with us,” Allen said. “I’d rather see it come at 16 years rather than 21.”

Person’s supplement pay is an issue because other area school systems, which compete with Person County for teachers, have higher supplements. The state average for teacher supplements ranges between 12-18 percent. In Durham, the supplement averages 16 percent. Granville County recently approved an increase that brings its average supplement to 16 percent. Person County’s 10 percent supplement has remained unchanged since 2014, when it rose from 8 percent to its current level.

Other funding needs

The school system is also on the hook this year to fully fund the Person Early College for Innovation and Leadership, or PECIL. The school was originally funded with a grant, but according to Superintendent Rodney Peterson, that grant funding expires this year. He estimated the school system would need to find $275,000 to fully fund that school next year.

PECIL, currently in its third year of operation, serves ninth- 10th- and 11th-graders. It is scheduled to expand next year to serve a full high school contingent of ninth-12th grade.

Housed on the campus of Piedmont Community College, the school allows students to earn their high school diploma and a two-year associate’s degree without paying college tuition. For students who want to attend a four-year college or university, that gives them a head start on graduation requirements for a four-year degree, dramatically reducing the cost of college.

School leaders expect to be able to fund the school going forward.

Giving money away

The school system’s proposed $11.1 million operating budget won’t all be spent on Person County Schools students.

Under state law, the school system is required to set aside a portion of the funds it receives to pay for students who attend charter schools.

Of the requested amount, about $2.3 million would be paid to charter schools attended by students from Person County. Masten said 1,144 Person County students attend charter schools. That represents about 20 percent of all Person County children of school age.

The school board will hold a public hearing on its proposed budget at the board’s May 9 meeting to give residents an opportunity to weigh in on the proposal.

School board members say they know they are asking a lot of county commissioners, but they believe their requests are reasonable. “I don’t see anything in the budget that’s not necessary. We received an increase last year, but we were held flat the three years prior,” said Allen, the board’s chair.

Board member Margaret Bradsher agreed. “If you don’t ask for it, you don’t get it,” she said.

Phillip Gillis also voiced his support for the spending plan. “It’s about as low as you can get it. You’ve got to keep everything that’s in there,” he said.

Peterson summed up the budget proposal this way. “If we don’t additional money for the increases we’re getting, that’s going to impact our classrooms,” Peterson said.

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