Along with funding cuts for the next academic school year, leaders from Sampson County Schools will also be challenged by a state law to lower classroom sizes. Officials warn that may come at the expense of art programs.
The matter was presented by Finance Director Stephen Britt and Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy during a Tuesday work session for the Board of Education. Lawmakers would like to reduce the amount of kindergarten through third-grade students in one room.
“Every school system in the state is going through the same thing with this legislation,” Bracy said.
Legislation states that the average class size for kindergarten is 18, 16 for first grade, 17 for the second grade, and 17 for third. Currently the average is about 21.
For Sampson County, that would mean adding another 26 teachers. The total cost for salaries, Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax, retirement and health insurance would cost the district an additional $1.52 million.
Bracy and others questioned where they would find the teachers and what building they would go in. He mentioned that school officials traveled to Ohio and New York to recruit teachers.
“If this legislation is a reality and teachers are needed, they’re going to go to the highest paid districts,” he said referring to larger areas such as Durham, Chapel Hill and Charlotte. “They pay more local supplement than we do. It’s really going to create a free-for-all for all of those extra teachers that are needed.”
Supplemental positions for subjects such as music, art and physical education is also coming into question for many districts.
“That’s the fear of all of us across the state — losing our arts, which is what we don’t want to do,” Bracy said.
He mentioned that a lot of people would like to have lower class sizes, but not by eliminating art programs.
In all, the district anticipates having to cut about nine positions because of a $450,000 loss in state funding. One of the biggest challenges is the amount of low wealth funding from the state, which is distributed when a county’s ability to produce local income is below the state’s average. The district is expecting that amount to be cut by $108,000. For the current school year, the district received $4.37 million.
“This is a significant cut to our budget,” Bracy said referring to the nine positions.
To help with the cutbacks from previous years, the school district is requesting $8.98 million from the Sampson County Board of Commissioners.
Bracy and Britt also mentioned cuts in funding dating back to 2009, which came with increases in retirement and health insurance rates and declining enrollment. Since the 2008-2009 school period, the district loss 18 teachers and about four support positions.
“We had declining enrollment, but it hasn’t decreased to that level where we should have lost 18 teachers,” Bracy said while talking about the cuts.
For the next several months, Bracy said there’s a lot of the matters are up in the air.
“We realize that we ask the commissioners for a huge commitment, but we need that extra money that we’re asking for,” he said.
Based on early projections, the district is expecting to receive $11.14 million in revenue for operating expenses in 2018. Some of the listed needs includes maintenance, technology, driver’s education, central office administration and transportation.
“This will change based on the uncertainties out there for both state and local funding and even federal funding,” Britt said.
The Board of Education is scheduled to make a decision on these matters during its next meeting, scheduled for Monday, April 24, at Central Office Auditorium, 437 Rowan Road, Clinton.