LINCOLNTON – The Lincoln County Board of Education has a $4 million plan to help the district meet goals for the 2018-19 school year, which includes addressing classroom needs, technology upgrades, safety measures and leadership training. School board representatives shared this multimillion-dollar vision with Lincoln County commissioners at their joint meeting Jan. 25, and requested $23,921,746.96 total for the 2018-19 school year.
Lincoln County Schools Superintendent Lory Morrow led the presentation and said the extra $4 million is needed to help the district catch up to where it once was and provide enhancements in some areas that have fallen to the wayside in recent years.
Morrow said the No. 1 goal is to provide “adequate staffing” and instructional supplies for classrooms.
The 2018-19 budget has to take into account a state mandate that requires smaller class sizes without giving funds to pay for the increased staff requirements. The Lincoln County Schools proposed budget calls for 52 locally-funded teacher positions – compared to 23 in 2017-18 – to “maintain current levels of education.” Due to cutbacks in state funding, the district requested about $1.6 million in additional funding from the county for these positions.
And classroom needs don’t stop there.
“The lower the grade, the more instructional supplies they need to meet their learning needs,” Morrow explained.
From scissors and glue to digital subscriptions, Morrow said classrooms need more supplies and learning materials. Since 2008-09 there has been a decrease of about $383,775 in state funding for classroom supplies, and a drastic reduction in the amount available to cover each student’s basic learning needs. Ten years ago about $60 was allocated for each student in North Carolina, and for 2017-18, there was only room in the budget for about $30 per student. Morrow said tight classroom budgets have placed a greater burden on parents, which should not be the case.
LCS Board Chairman Bill Beam added teachers often purchase supplies using their own money as well, and he supported the school board’s desire to provide more for students.
In addition to classroom supplies, Morrow said LCS facilities are in need of about $1 million worth of new computers and other devices, as more than 700 of the district’s computers are at least 10 years old.
And as Commissioner Anita McCall mentioned, “by the time you get to 10 years you’ve got a compatibility issue.”
McCall suggested Morrow and her team look into leasing equipment as that process can often be cheaper than purchasing new devices. Though Morrow said the board hadn’t looked into the prospect, some board members said the idea wasn’t feasible.
“We have to be very careful about making a huge purchase at one time,” board member Cathy Gates said.
Gates referenced the recent cold snap, during which a school’s boilers had to be replaced to heat the building properly. If the school board uses its fund balance to lease hundreds of devices at once, it might not have funds to cover emergency expenses similar to the boiler issue.
To keep costs lower, Commissioner Martin Oakes suggested purchasing a tablet for each student, rather than desktop computers, but Associate Superintendent Aaron Allen said tablets “don’t support state testing,” which is a requirement for technology in North Carolina.
Morrow also assured commissioners that the school board is looking into iPads, Chromebooks and more, not just costly desktops.
But classrooms and computer labs are not the only places where technology upgrades are due. The board’s third goal for 2018-19 is to “maintain (a) safe and appropriate learning environment,” which means adding cameras to school buses and more around school buildings and purchasing a few new buses.
Lastly, the board requested $50,000 to help fund leadership training for new teachers, administrators and experienced teachers.
Though commissioners seemed to support the school board’s ambition, there was some discussion about where to find the extra millions.
Commissioner Martin Oakes had one thing to say: “Five cents on the tax rate or an 8 percent tax increase.”
Beam made special mention of Gaston County’s upcoming bond referendum, which, if approved by voters, would allow the county to charge an additional quarter-cent on the current sales tax rate.
According to Lincoln County Finance Director Deanna Rios, if Lincoln County follows suit, the sales tax increase could generate between $3-4 million a year.
“That to me is much better than a property tax, because everybody pays it. … It’s one of those things the county would vote up or down ... We could say it’s going to the schools,” Beam said.
Of the sales tax increase, County Manager Kelly Atkins said, “The last one we proposed did fail here in Lincoln.”
Morrow assured commissioners the school board is looking into all avenues of possible additional funding.
“The problem is everyone is chasing the same money,” she said, “but that doesn’t keep us from trying.”