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State legislators talk with local school officials about funding

Local school officials talk with state legislators during a breakfast meeting held recently at the Professional Development Center. (Below) NC Speaker of the House Tim Moore, at left, and UCPS Board of Education Vice Chairman Leslie Boyd (At-large), tour a class at Marvin Ridge High School.

Union County Public Schools hosted several state legislators recently to talk about various bills, the state budget and UCPS initiatives.

The first visit occurred on March 23 at Marvin Ridge High School following a request from NC Speaker of the House Tim Moore. NC Representative Craig Horn also attended.

The second gathering occurred during a legislative breakfast led by UCPS Board of Education's Legislative Committee on March 30.

Marvin Ridge High School

Five teachers and two administrators were invited for the informal round-table discussion: Principal Donna Cook, Assistant Principal Lisa Justice, Spanish teacher Alejandra Elliot, Social Studies teacher Matthew Gain, CTE Teacher Troy Burns, Math teacher Sandra Tran, and International Baccalaureate teacher Ann Yochem.

Horn, who is chairman of the several education committees including the Education Appropriations, the K-12 Education committees and the House Study Committee on Education Innovation, spoke on legislative issues and money affecting education in the state.

MRHS Principal Donna Cook thanked legislators for increasing beginning teacher pay voted on last year, but stressed the need for pay increases for all teachers in order for salaries to align with the national average.

“We are the highest performing high school in North Carolina, yet I had 37 teachers leave for South Carolina or the private industry where they can make more money,” Cook said.

“I’ve been in this career for 30 years,” said math teacher Sandra Tran. “I think it’s a slap in the face to give pay raises only to beginning teachers. In what other profession can you walk in the door and make more money than experienced employees? It’s the veteran teachers who are leaving.”

“We take this very seriously,” Horn said. “What we did last year is one piece of the puzzle. It’s not the end all. We are committed to keeping the ball rolling. It may not get done in a year, but we recognize the challenge.”

Following the discussion, legislators toured the school and visited the classrooms of Rachael Wilson-Cranshaw (Biology teacher), Latonya Clark (math teacher) and Barbara Honea (multimedia web page design).

Legislative breakfast

The second gathering occurred during a legislative breakfast led by UCPS Board of Education's Legislative Committee. It was held March 30 at the Professional Development Center.

In attendance were UCPS Board of Education Vice Chairman Leslie Boyd (At-large), Board of Ed members Mike Guzman (At-large); Sharon Harrell (District 1), Melissa Merrell (District 4) and Jason Marton (UCPS Board of Education-elect); state representatives Craig Horn (District 68); Dean Arp (District 69); Mark Brody (District 55); and Sen. Fletcher Hartsell (District 36).

There were several members of the community who also attended, including Rita Webb (Education Foundation); community members/parent advocates Greg Hazlett, Karen Shelton, Amelie Schoel, and Dan Gingrich; and Roger Stanton, chairman of the Union County Republican Party.

Legislators were given a list of the nine items on the UCPS Legislative Agenda: driver’s education, the school calendar, A-F grading of schools, Average Daily Membership (ADM) funding, teacher pay, principal/assistant principal compensation, teacher assistant funding, reduction of testing, and the North Carolina Pre-K program.

A lengthy discussion evolved about the state’s tentative plans to discontinue funding for driver’s education, which is currently funded by the state through the Highway Fund. If the state removes funding for this, local school systems would be responsible.

According to UCPS Superintendent Dr. Mary Ellis, the UCPS budget for driver’s education is about $976,000. Currently, students pay $65 to take the course, which generates about $200,000. That leaves a balance of about $776,000, an expense that is currently paid by the state.

Money will run out for driver’s education, a state-mandated program, on June 30, unless lawmakers act to restore funding.

If legislators do not restore funding, school districts will have to pay the costs to offer the course, or require parents to pay an estimated $300 to $400 per student.

“No one wants to drive in this county or anywhere else where kids are not educated behind the wheel,” said parent advocate Amelie Schoel.

Some legislators felt driver’s education may not be the answer to safer teen drivers.

“There was a nationwide study done that indicated, surprisingly enough, that there is no evidence that driver’s education is beneficial in the context of a reduction of accidents,” said Sen. Hartsell. “What has been beneficial is a graduated driver’s license.”

“No matter what we want, we still have to base it on the amount of money we take in, and we seriously have to consider that if we want more money, are we going to turn around and raise taxes?” said Rep. Brody. “You’ve elected us to manage the state, not to make ourselves look good.”

Horn encouraged those in attendance to continue to reach higher. “You’re the leaders. You’re on the front lines every day. You provide the leadership. Our job is on the sidelines, cheering you on, giving you the funds to do the job.”

Boyd said she was very pleased with the aftermath of the two meetings. “I’m most excited about the fact that you can see some things have happened since our first meeting at Marvin Ridge,” she said. “They really are hearing us and being supportive. We know they’re not going to win it all, but the fact that they’re supportive is really all we can ask for. I think that Union County is very well respected by the legislators who were here.”

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Apr 02, 2015 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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