Budget Q & A For the 2011-12 School Year
Q. Why are we always hearing about the State cutting the education budget?
A. The education portion of the State’s budget is the largest category of state spending, so it is difficult to balance the budget without cuts to education.
Q. Isn’t the “Education Lottery” supposed to solve funding problems?
A. Lottery funds, along with receipts from civil penalties, sales tax refunds, the highway fund, and surplus sales, makes up about 4% of the State’s 2009-10 budget. Lottery funding simply replaced a portion of the funding the state previously provided and none of the money to date has been for discretionary spending. The 35% of the lottery’s proceeds designated for education programs has been distributed as follows: 40% for school construction,10% for Pell Grant college scholarships, and almost 50% to maintain K-3 class sizes and to the More at Four Pre-K program. Buncombe County Schools only receives about $1.5 million a year from the lottery,most of which is restricted in how it’s used.
Q. Who sets education salaries and how are they determined?
A. The State has set salary schedules for teachers, principals and instructional positions, as well as certain other types of employees, based on several factors. These include: years of experience, level of education reached, and special certifications achieved.School based administrators receive salaries based on the number of students in the school and the number of teachers for which they are responsible, according to state schedules.Central Office administrators are also paid based on state schedules.
Q. Does the State pay all BCS employee salaries?
A. No.However, the State does fund most teacher and principal positions through a formula called a “position allotment.” Teacher position allotments are based on the number of students the State has determined should be in a class at a particular grade level. This is why we hear of job losses when the State raises the number of students in an average class. The more students in classes, the fewer teachers are needed.
Some teachers are funded using federal or local monies, as are other types of employees.
Q. What are “discretionary” cuts?
A. The name sounds like there is a choice involved, but as State Superintendent of Education June Atkinson points out, “there are no longer choices that will not cut into our children’s education and impact their future." On the one hand, when the General Assembly provides for "discretionary cuts" in the education budget, instead of singling out particular categories to cut, it does provide school systems with flexibility to choose the areas where cuts are made, in keeping with the priorities and needs of the system. On the other hand, too much of a discretionary cut can leave the school system "holding the bag," putting the system in the position of making the tough choices that, one way or the other, negatively impact the classroom through no fault of our own.
Q. What is the “local supplement” I hear about?
A. The State funds many employee positions (though not all), but that does not mean those positions are funded adequately. All Buncombe County employees, not just teachers, receive a local supplement in addition to the State funds. Local supplements vary from state to state, school system to school system, and have been used for decades to allow for equitable salaries that take into account the unique characteristics of a given area, including a locality’s average cost of living and salary levels. For example, whether a teacher or a maintenance worker, an employee living in an area where an average rent is $600 and the median income is $38,000, may not need to be paid as much as an employee living in an area where the average rent is $950and the median income is $45,000. Here in the Asheville area, salaries are notoriously low while the cost of living is higher than many other parts of North Carolina. The local supplement helps even out this discrepancy.
In Buncombe County, the Board of Education commissioned a $100,000 study in 2000 that provided a comprehensive evaluation of the school system organization as it involves employees. When researchers compared the salaries of Buncombe County Schools non-certified employees with those of 15 local, regional and state school systems, governmental agencies and private sector employers, it found that, even though BCS employees were paid a small local supplement, their salaries at that time averaged 6% less than their counterparts. The Board subsequently increased the local supplement paid to those employees by 6%, to show their support for the valuable contributions made by non-certified employees. No further comparative data has been obtained since that study was completed, nor has the supplement increased since that time.
Q. What is the average dollar amount spent per pupil on students in Buncombe County Schools and across the nation?
A. In 2007, five years ago, the United States on average spent$10,768 per student on elementary and secondary education. In 2000-01, the US average spent per pupil was $7380 in dollars unadjusted for inflation. By comparison, the average spending per pupil in Buncombe County Schools for the 2010-11 school year, the third year in a row for budget cuts, is $7607.
Q. Can’t you cut the Central Office“bureaucracy?”
A. First, let’s define both“bureaucracy” and "central office". According to President Woodrow Wilson in his book The Study of Administration, the purpose of a bureaucracy is “to successfully implement the actions of an organization of any size in achieving its purpose and mission.” Further, “the bureaucracy is charged to determine how it can achieve its purpose and mission with the greatest possible efficiency and at the least cost of any resources.” As the 11th largest school system in the state, with over 25,250 students and nearly 4,000 employees, there is a certain level of employee management and student support that must exist for the Buncombe County Schools organization to function.
Although a wide variety of employees are headquartered at the school system facility located at 175 Bingham Road, most provide direct service to schools and students in the way of curriculum support, home school teachers, testing support, technology and maintenance assistance, child nutrition management (including the administration of the federal lunch program), special services for students with special needs, speech therapists, translators, school social workers and graduation initiative staff, people who handle employee and student records and transcripts, personnel and payroll employees, etc. These employees take great pride in, as President Wilson described, helping Buncombe County Schools “achieve our mission with the greatest possible efficiency and at the least cost of any resources.”
Do they succeed? The Civitas Institute found that Buncombe County Schools educates students from kindergarten through graduation at an average cost of $127,294, compared to the state average of $142,027, and graduates them at a rate equal to or above the state average. State evaluations indicate that the BCS Transportation Department operates buses at a nearly impossible 98% efficiency level. The BCS Finance Department continually wins state awards for their accuracy and best practices in managing a $270 million budget. Are we efficient? You be the judge!
About the “Central Office”:
The State funds 21Central Office administrator positions at the “director” and Superintendent levels in Buncombe County Schools. Although we are the 11th largest school system, Buncombe County Schools has only 17 persons in these positions. In past years, BCS has ranked 13th out of 115 school systems in terms of THE LOWEST number of C.O.administrators per 1000 students--only a dozen or fewer of the 115 school systems in the state are more streamlined. With the loss of an additional 4 central office positions cut in the 2011-12 school year, Buncombe County Schools has likely moved even higher in the efficiency ranking.