EDUCATION: Teacher positions will remain same; funding will be reduced in other areas

Aug. 14, 2013 @ 05:04 AM

Despite much hand-wringing over the personnel cuts imposed by the state budget passed last month, Lee County Schools will have the same number of teachers and teacher assistants as last year.

The district will make up the difference in funding, Superintendent Andy Bryan announced Tuesday evening at a school board meeting, by reducing funding in other areas and making changes and cuts to non-classroom personnel.

"It is very clear to me that there is a strong consensus to protect classrooms in Lee County Schools," Bryan said, speaking from a written statement. "Protecting classrooms means keeping teachers and teacher assistants. ... Unfortunately, this will severely reduce funding for things such as supplies, materials, tutors and staff development opportunities, but given the current circumstances, it is the best option available."

He outlined several of the tactics to scrounge up the millions of dollars required to compensate for the state's cuts, which amounted to 33.5 teaching positions and one-fifth of all teacher assistants. They were:

* Reallocate state funding used for other purposes, including supplies and professional development.

* Eliminate four media specialist positions and replace them with media assistant positions; also reduce the total number of media assistant positions from eight to six by not filling jobs left open due to attrition or retirement.

* Delay renewal of some of the older laptops which have been given to students through the district's 1:1 Laptops initiative.

* Freeze the position of associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, the second-in-command position Bryan vacated when he became Superintendent in July. The district had also tried to start a similar position for former Southern Lee Principal Bonnie Almond, but she left for a job in Beaufort County, S.C. shortly afterward. That short-lived position will be eliminated.

* Eliminate the Graduation Ambassadors program and reduce funding for tutors. Both of those are due to reductions in county-level funding, not state funding.

"Our highest priority is to enhance our children's individual growth opportunities and to ultimately support the future well being of our community with well educated citizens," Bryan said. "... Even though this budget requires difficult choices, we still have an obligation to remain innovative as a school district — we live in an interconnected, global economy driven by technology. That is a fact."

Tackling other financial woes, the board also approved the sale of a house built by Lee County High School students for $50,000 — even though the house cost an estimated $58,000 to build. A similar house built by Southern Lee High School students sold for $60,000, but no bidders were willing to go in on the other house over the course of several different auctions. So finally, said Aaron Fleming, whose career and technical education department oversaw the work, they decided to just recoup as much as they could.

However, board Vice Chairman Mark Akinosho pointed out that the district sends students and teachers to conferences and competitions across the country without expecting to directly profit from those expenditures.

"If we're giving them an opportunity to learn something, it's not all about the profit," he said.

Flemming replied, "Hopefully our return on investment will be these students will turn around and give back to the community." He added that this was the first time either school's house sold at a loss — but that as a precaution, the two schools will combine to build just one house next year.

The board also:

* Honored the central office's financial staff. The group was one of just 10 school district financial offices out of the 115 in North Carolina to win all three levels of awards for financial reporting the state gives out — and it was the 16th year in a row they have won all three awards.

* Heard public comments from Sandra Boyd and Keith Clark. Boyd, representing the J. Glenn Edwards Elementary School PTO, asked the board for any help it could give since her group owes unexpected taxes due to wrongly thinking they were registered as a non-profit when they bought thousands of dollars in playground equipment for the school. Clark, a blogger and Sanford City Council candidate, asked that the district's next elementary school go in or near downtown Sanford in order to bring more people to the area and hopefully boost the economy.

* Approved its consent agenda, including a new science innovation lab course at SanLee Middle School.

* Nominated the Lee County Education Foundation to be added to the North Carolina School Boards Association's Small Business and Non-Profit Honor Roll.

* Voted to hold off on naming new appointees to the Central Carolina Community College Board of Trustees until the lawsuit filed by its four current appointees — all of whom were prematurely removed from their seats and prevented from immediately seeking re-election by a recent law — has come to a close.

* Approved salary schedules for this year.

* Joined with the Tramway Elementary School DRUM (Discipline, Respect and Unity through Music) team for a percussion-heavy break from official business.

* Honored its former student resource officers. A recent law abolished the district's police force and gave responsibility over campus safety to the Lee County Sheriff's Office.

* Congratulated all Pre-K through 12th grade teachers on the district's rise in the four-year graduation rate last school year, from 84 to 86.4 percent.