By Carl Blankenship
HILLSBOROUGH — Orange County Schools’ recommended local budget is dominated by improved pay and new positions.
The anticipated continuation budget will come in about $2.2 million higher than the local funding for the 2022-2023 fiscal year if the Orange County Board of Commissioners signs off on a budget request with 4% salary increases. The estimated local continuation budget for the coming fiscal year is $41.8 million.
However, the board is looking for a $8.2 million increase for its overall budget to cover program expansions which would add more employees, new pay supplements and more pay for hourly staff. District Chief Finance Officer Rhonda Rath outlined the expansion with the school board during its Monday budget hearing.
Here is a rundown of some of the new pay and programs the schools are looking for:
- An additional 2% for “student facing staff” in Title I schools — those which serve a large number of economically disadvantaged students —, secondary math teachers, exceptional children teachers and teaching assistants.
- An increase in experience-based teacher pay, which would require $1.95 million
- $2,000 supplements for employees with at least 20 years of service in the district
- $2 million to fund pay step increases for hourly staff like teaching assistants, bus drivers and cafeteria workers
- Funding for seven additional dual-role teaching assistant/bus drivers
- $110,000 for high school parking lot security guards
- $250,000 for NC ED Corp tutors at $205,000
- A 3% increase to athletic coaching supplements funded at $15,000
- An additional English language learner teacher at $80,000
- An additional dual language teacher at New Hope Elementary School at $80,000
- Funding to cover half the application cost for teachers to become nationally board certified at $24,000
- Pre-K costs funded under Title I at $500,000.
Many of the recommendations are based on feedback collected from staff members. A new addition for the board to consider, which did not have a dollar figure attached as of Monday, is funding for a robotics extracurricular program.
“The request for this is because it has come to my attention this work is already underway in our schools,” OCS Superintendent Monique Felder said. “Staff who are leading these efforts around STEM, STEAM, robotics, through the extracurricular side of the work, would need to be compensated for that.”
Another request, which came in too late to be added to the presentation, is the addition of a full-time science, technology, engineering, arts and math teacher. Felder noted there will likely be additional requests as the district moves through the allotment process.
The district anticipates approving a local budget on April 10, but it is facing some challenges.
The local funding is only part of the district’s budget. Most of the money comes directly from the state based on average daily membership, the metric the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction uses to assess enrollment. The district has continued its gradual decline in enrollment and projects losing 60 more students in the coming school year while local charter schools expect to pick up 48 more.
The district has lost state funding for a classroom teacher position, an instructional support position, some career and technical education funding and $195,000 in at-risk money.
The district also anticipates recurring expenditures, totaling $2.84 million, which it is paying for with COVID-19 relief funding. That money will expire September 2024 and includes the district’s lead nurse position, a floating nurse, its multi-tiered system of supports director, a mental health counselor, math coaches, literacy curriculum and summer programming, among other programs.
“As we continue to plan and move forward, there are items here that we’re going to need to consider and look to other funding sources,” Rath said.