Friday, July 19, 2024

Pender County school board needs $4.7M more from commissioners, district staff say

A Pender County Board of Education candidate is being challenged by the Pender County NAACP (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)
Just to maintain Pender County Schools’ current services, staff estimates a needed $1.5 million more from county commissioners for the 2023/2024 school year.(Port City Daily photo/Michael Praats)

PENDER COUNTY — An analysis of the Pender County Board of Education budget Tuesday revealed county commissioners will need to provide more funding to accomplish next school year’s goals. 

Just to maintain Pender County Schools’ current services, staff estimates $1.5 million more should be obligated for the 2023/2024 school year. However, the district will require more than $4 million to hire additional staff the district is in need of. 

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According to the budget presentation from Superintendent Brad Breedlove, the district hopes to bring on more support positions, elective teachers and assistant principals to accommodate the district’s growing student count and boost its eight low-performing schools. 

With 19 schools and counting — two new ones are included in the 2022 bond — and six pre-Ks, the district has 10,972 students. According to staff, Pender County has grown at a rate of 15% since 2010, with that percentage expected to increase to 23.9% over the next decade. The county ranks in the top five fastest growing in North Carolina.

Also to contend with is the phasing out of Covid-19 ESSR funds — a fact taking a lot of heat across the border in New Hanover County Schools. Like its neighboring school district, Pender County funded some support positions with ESSR money, set to expire this year. 

In its budget presentation, PCS is aiming to include six more counselor positions, three of which would replace those disappearing with ESSR funds. Some positions at the Pender Innovative Learning Academy will also go away if not renewed in next year’s budget. 

To give extra support to PCS’ low-performing schools — Burgaw Middle, Cape Fear Elementary, Cape Fear Middle, Pender High, Penderlea Elementary, Pender Innovative Learning Academy, Rocky Point Elementary, West Pender Middle — the district wants to hire six instructional and coaching positions, along with 28 daily intensive tutors. Not unlike the plan proposed in New Hanover, Pender County BOE wants to provide students time every day to work with a tutor in a subject they are struggling with.

The district also proposed hiring five more elective teachers per community requests for more elective options in elementary and middle schools. Staff want to alleviate guidance counselors — which the district is seeking six more of — and media coordinators from teaching elective courses. 

The proposal includes two additional assistant principals — one for Surf City, another for Topsail Middle — and extending contracts from 10 to 11 months to give the APs plenty of time to prepare for the next school year. 

Also requested is an additional curriculum director to add to the two, thus giving each school level one, along with testing support stipends.

To accomplish hiring goals, district staff calculate the need for an additional $1.8 million. Adding in the district’s plans for capital projects, the total wishlist number reaches $4.7 million more than last year’s provision of nearly $28 million.

However, the district notes it can maintain current services with the same capital outlay amount as the last two years, $2.9 million. Though, an increase in the general budget of $1.5 million will be necessary to cover the rise in salary benefits.

Port City Daily asked the district how many positions are funded with ESSR, and how many positions, if any, will need to be cut if the commissioners don’t provide additional funds. A response was not received by press.

At their meeting Tuesday night, the board members nor staff discussed what capital items were included in their calculations —  namely the recommended air quality upgrades across district schools. 

Board member Brent Springer asked if the air conditioning was budgeted to be left on throughout summer break; staff said that was not the plan. 

“We need to do it,” Springer said. “I don’t want to come back with a cesspool of mold, for emails coming back to us and us having to come back to you.” 

CATCH UP: Public records show PCS approached Topsail Middle air quality issues with lax response

Staff replied it could be worked into the utility budget, which would mean a higher expense, though didn’t specify by how much. 

New BOE member Phil Cordeiro asked when the board would receive the breakdown of state and federal funding; Tuesday’s presentation only included local expenses. While staff said the state budget had not yet been finalized, Cordeiro asked for the current funding level to gain a better understanding. 

He also asked staff why the local allocation has almost doubled in the last decade, while the student population has only increased 20%. When he didn’t receive a clear answer, he asked if he could get the data in a spreadsheet format.

Toward the end of the meeting, Springer made a motion to add an item to the agenda to allow Cordeiro access to the district’s financial data system. Cordeiro, who is a Certified Public Accountant and former government finance officer, explained with it he could conduct his own analysis of the district’s finances and better serve the board. 

He said the data he wanted was public, but giving him a personal login to the system would “streamline the process of obtaining data.”

Some board members and district legal counsel Brandon McPherson were hesitant to accept the request.  The system includes personnel information, such as employee addresses and social security numbers, which Cordeiro clarified he would object to having access to.

“I think you’ve got good intentions, it’s just no other district, really, no other board member really does this, and I’m just worried about the possibility of overreach, that’s all,” board member Beth Burns said. 

Ultimately, Springer’s motion to accommodate Cordeiro did not receive a second and failed. 


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com 

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