School board passes budget but arguments continue

by Patricia E. Matson
Thursday, June 30, 2011

The New Hanover County school board has passed its budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year, but the debate continues.

On June 24, the day after the 5-2 vote, member Derrick Hickey said he couldnít believe the board had dipped into the fund balance to restore what he called a bonus for remaining teachers instead of saving jobs.

"Iím outraged," he said. "We clearly havenít put the students first."

Board chairman Don Hayes said on June 28 that he had mixed feelings, but he did vote for the bonus. He explained that the reserve fund balance was still higher than 5 percent, teachers had no raises in 3 years, and the cut would have made a big difference to teachers.

New Hanover County teachers are paid 7 percent more than their state-mandated salaries. Superintendent Tim Markley had proposed reducing that to
6 percent, which still would have been more than in surrounding counties.

Hayes said the superintendent had previously recommended cutting additional positions including Academically and Intellectually Gifted teachers, English as a Second Language teachers and school nurses. However, the board was able to restore those positions after county commissioners voted on June 21 to keep their share of operating funds at previous levels.

"Had the money not been there to restore the nurses and the others ... I never would have voted to keep the supplement," Hayes said.

However, the 180 positions already eliminated by the board in previous votes will not be restored. Hayes said those cuts were necessary because state and federal funding fell $15 million this year.

Hickey said the board could have used the supplement money to save about 20 teaching positions.

"I donít pretend to know what motivated my colleagues to make such an irresponsible decision," Hickey stated on June 27.

Hayes said, "We did what we had to do, and we hope that next year wonít be as bad." He added that if finances didnít improve, the board would have to cut the supplement next year.

Janice Cavenaugh was the other board member who voted against the budget.

At Wrightsville Beach School, the budget cuts mean there will be no assistant principal. However, new principal MaryPaul Beall said it was good that the school would be able to keep its full-time AIG teacher and guidance counselor.

The schoolís heating and air conditioning system will also be renovated for $150,000, including replacing the window units, according to Valita Quattlebaum, chief communications officer for the district. Quattlebaum said the replacement was unrelated to a mold issue reported earlier this year. The North Carolina Department of Labor has closed its investigation into alleged unsanitary conditions at the school, saying they had been corrected or no longer existed.

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