LINCOLNTON – The Lincoln County Board of Education met with N.C. Rep. Jason Saine and N.C. Sen. Ted Alexander – both of Lincoln County – on Friday, Feb. 22, to discuss the board’s legislative priorities. These priorities, which were set by the school board’s policy committee, are similar to those presented to Saine and former N.C. Sen. David Curtis in 2018.
School safety is a new priority for 2019, and the board is requesting additional funding for positions to ensure safe campuses and continue to address mental health needs. Some of the funding for school safety – such as the addition of resource officers at all Lincoln County middle schools, as well as a handful of guidance counselors – has been provided this year through grants. The board is looking for assurance that those grants and additional funding will continue.
Both Saine – who was a member of the House Select Committee on School Safety, which proposed authorizing the funding to hire those additional resource officers and guidance counselors – and Alexander assured the board that they’d continue to support funding for school safety.
Board member Cathy Davis stressed the need for local education agencies to have the continued flexibility to establish academically sound calendars based on the particular needs of the district.
Calendar flexibility has been something that Saine has previously agreed to support, and he said that he’s been in discussion with Alexander on the subject. Saine added that numerous bills have been filed in the Senate asking for flexibility, or at least alignment with community college schedules. No legislation has passed.
Another priority that mirrors last year’s wish list is increasing compensation for all educators in order to retain existing teachers and bring in new ones.
“We saw the leakage in teachers leaving, and that trend has reversed through the multiple raises we’ve done over the past six years,” Saine said. “Of course, when you start behind, it’s hard to catch up. The data is showing that we are retaining more. It’s still at the top of our mind when it comes to budgets, and I don’t think there’s been any move to get away from that. We can never fix it fast enough for everybody.”
Class size mandate
With the K-3 class size law taking effect gradually each year, the board has a continued concern about maintaining electives such as art, music, physical education and world languages. This was a priority in 2018 as well, and for the 2018-19 school year, the state allotted extra funding to help districts keep those teachers.
In their list of priorities presented at the meeting, the board requested that adequate allotments to support teachers in art, music, physical education and world languages be permanently established to help local education agencies meet the class-size reduction mandate.
“One of our fears is that if those go away, that the responsibilities of teaching those curriculums are going to go back on the classroom teacher,” St. James Elementary principal Shanti Clancy said. “I can say that when I was in educator training, I only took one class in each of those. That would put additional stress on these classroom teachers. It’s important that we maintain a well-rounded education and are teaching the whole child.”
Saine agreed with Clancy on the need for specialized teachers, and said that he was supportive of establishing a permanent allotment to fund those positions.
Finally, Heather Rhyne – on behalf of the board – requested equal accountability standards for all charter, virtual and private schools receiving public funding. That was a priority last year, as well.
Saine asked Rhyne how she felt about equitable funding if equitable accountability were in place.
“If equitable accountability means everything is equitable, then I agree,” Rhyne said.
Morrow added that transparency needs to go along with the funding.
“That’s why I asked about equitable funding because we’re not talking apples to apples,” Saine said. “I think we can make that play a little more palatable to everybody if we can get on board as to equitable funding. That’s probably been the biggest rub for me because you can’t have it both ways. I want you all to have the flexibility that’s there because I see that it works. At the same time, as we talk about equity, let’s talk full equity – equitable spending and accountability – the two should go hand in hand.”
Saine closed the meeting by sharing the state’s current budget pressures, and assured the board that legislators are “keenly aware” of the need for funds for safety issues, and that it isn’t just a “hot issue and now onto the next thing.”
“This meeting has been very helpful to me,” Alexander said. “One of the things that I’m sensing that you’ll probably see and hear more of is that there’s a greater understanding and emphasis on things like workforce development, the trades and how schools can help complement that. I think you’ll also see from a philosophical standpoint a re-emphasis on civics and patriotism. I think that’s something that’s important to a lot of people.”