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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Pender superintendent says county allocation ‘drags us down,’ asks for additional $6 million

Pender County Schools buses. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

PENDER COUNTY — Funding for the schools of Pender County is ranked among the lowest in the state. Superintendent Brad Breedlove is hoping to change that. 

READ MORE: Pender commissioners greenlight $6M land purchase for new K-8 school

Last week, the Pender County Board of Education met to discuss its budget. The district receives $35 million from the federal government, $85 million from the state and $25 million from the county. Breedlove took aim at the latter’s contribution.

“To improve educational outcomes, I ask that Pender County increase its local investment in public schools,” Breedlove said. “The state’s allotted per-pupil expenditure of $7,419.32 ranks us at 93rd out of 115 [districts]. When we look at the federal of $1,218.07 that ranks us at 98th. However, it’s the limited local contribution of $2,135.63 per student that drags us down and Pender’s total funding to the bottom tier in the state.”

By comparison, Brunswick County’s per-pupil allotment is $3,417, ranking it 16th purely based on local funding; it’s 70th overall. New Hanover County accounts for almost a third of NHCS’ budget, which is on the higher end of allotments. The county pays $4,028 per pupil, ranking it 9th in local funding and 51st overall. These numbers include capital expenditures,  the primary funding duty of county governments.

“I firmly believe that with greater local revenues dedicated to schools Pender County could reduce class sizes, attract and hire quality teachers and retain our teachers through better compensation, invest in modern instructional technology and materials and expand support services and rich programs,” Breedlove said. “Failing to increase our local educational funding confers a generational opportunity loss to Pender County’s children and jeopardizes our community in long-term prosperity.”

The superintendent presented staff’s recommendation for how much money to ask the county — an additional $4.38 million for operating expenses and $1.64 million for capital improvements. 

The figures account for what Pender County Schools’ needs to expand its services to help keep up with the county’s growing student population. The current count is 10,851, though district leaders are projecting an additional 400 next school year. 

Like other school districts, PCS is grappling with the expiration of ESSER Covid-19 relief dollars, though has used less of their pot of money on positions, unlike neighboring New Hanover County. 

Breedlove said his budget proposal includes the addition of several positions into the general fund, including five instructional coaches ($450,000), two social workers ($200,000), four counselors ($400,000), three assistant principals ($380,000) and five nurses ($450,000). Some of these positions were funded through ESSER; overall, the district plans to keep 14 out of 14.25 positions.

The proposal also increases its local supplement to staff by 1%. Certified staff would go up from 9% to 10%, non-certified from 4% to 5%. This move will cost the district $750,000.

Breedlove said the elementary schools have been begging for each school to have its own instructional coach, while the increase in funding would also keep on enough nurses to cover every school.

The counselor increase move district closer to the state average of 1 counselor per 343 students; PCS’ ratio is currently 1:401. With the additional counselors, the ratio would drop to 1:362. Without them, the ratio would be 1:416 next year.

If granted by the county, these expenses would bring its contribution to more than $29 million. While this represents an expansion of services, the estimation for maintaining services is $26.8 million and would require some ESSER positions to go away permanently. 

As for capital expenditures, Breedlove said the “big story here is deferred maintenance.”  It includes:

  • Stormwater: $300,000
  • Roofing and gutter replacements: $600,000
  • Restroom renovations: $200,000
  • intercom/fire/security: $200,000
  • Parking lot repairs: $342,000 (Topsail High accounts for $300,000)

More than 50% of Pender County schools are over 20 years old, eight are over 30.

“We all know that older schools need more TLC and we have to provide that,” Breedlove said. 

The county’s traditional allotment is around $2.9 million and PCS has been using ESSER dollars to offset recurring technology costs. The annual $1.2 million needed to replace Chromebooks, teacher laptops, and classroom panels, along with $426,000 in recurring transportation costs, will need to move to the general fund next year just to maintain services. 

Dipping into the deferred maintenance would be considered an advancement.

Board member Ken Smith asked about personnel additions to the maintenance department; Breedlove said they were adding one position.

“I, for one in my own personal feelings, is that by not requesting more staff we’re asking for failure on these much-needed projects,” Smith said. 

PCS has 21 technicians now, but the industry standard, based on square footage, necessitates the district to 34 technicians. Adding two to three over the next five or six years would reach that goal, so Breedlove agreed to add in three more technicians to the operating budget.

Board member Phil Cordeiro was adamant the district should show the county commissioners an increase in student outcomes to demonstrate the need for additional positions.

“We need to show them data,” Cordeiro said. 

The budget will come back before the school board at least once more before the draft is sent to county commissioners.


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com.

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