Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools is no stranger to budget cuts. Over the course of seven years the Board of Education has made as much as $10 million in reductions. On July 21st, CHCCS was presented with a new task for the 2016-2017 school year: create an operational plan for all 21 schools in the district with $1.5 million.
The original budget request presented to the Board of Orange County Commissioners — which totalled $4.46 million — was intended to attract new hires and offer an increased supplement for teacher income in the district. These efforts were intended to overcome new state mandates that would otherwise leave a further gap in educational funding. The biggest competition wasn’t just the waiting game that followed, but the increase in teacher pay across neighbouring school districts.
“The deal with this is that in order to be competitive with Wake County, the school board here made the decision to raise teacher pay to keep and attract highly qualified teachers to this community,” said Melissa Zemon, CHS teacher. “They did this before the budget was approved. While there were a number of meetings to try to get the County Commissioners to fully fund the budget with the increase, this did not happen.”
Teacher turnover rates have reached 18 percent in the CHCCS district, and the ability to hire exceptional teachers primarily in the math and science departments is increasingly difficult. Twenty three local positions were terminated in coalition to boost CHCCS’ teacher salary for remaining positions, creating a new assistant-to-teacher program with less teachers overseeing a population of 12,000 students, thus causing drastic changes in the classroom. CHS departments, particularly the math department, have found themselves with the task of managing overpopulated class sizes. Additionally, with increased demand for AP online courses but a lack of funding, classes are maxed out to the point where many students don’t know where else to turn.
“Many people in Chapel Hill-Carrboro choose to live here and pay higher taxes because of the schools,” said Zemon. “ It doesn’t seem right to give teachers a pay increase and then force a situation that makes the job even harder than it already is.”
Students in an AP United States History class. Photo by Mireille Leone