In Durham Public Schools, we have no higher priority than to provide a rigorous education to every child who walks into our classrooms. We must prepare students for post-secondary studies and a host of careers that are changing rapidly thanks to global competition and technology. As we reported in January during our State of Our Schools presentation, we are making progress toward our academic goals, but we must move faster.
Our students are fortunate: Durham County citizens have a proud history of stepping up and providing resources to support our schools. Those resources include individual and corporate volunteerism as well as all-important parental involvement, which we look forward to bolstering through our upcoming DPS Family Academy.
But adequate financial resources are also critical. Education is a labor-intensive business, with 77 percent of our 2012-13 operating budget (excluding capital) going to salaries and benefits. Teachers, not textbooks or websites, have the greatest influence on a child’s learning. Support and administrative staff in our schools and district reinforce teachers’ efforts, bring our students to and from school, maintain our technology, prepare lunches and keep the heat running. Since the recession of 2008 began, North Carolina school districts have seen those financial resources shrink. Last year was the third year of state funding reductions, and federal funding designed to partially offset them expired.
We have curtailed unnecessary spending in response, and Durham County citizens’ November 2011 approval of a ¼-cent sales tax increase for education is helping to preserve teaching jobs and pay for school facility improvements. We are grateful and proud of our community’s willingness to support our schools. However, local funding comprises just over 30 percent of our operating budget. Local resources could go only so far to address funding uncertainty at the state and federal level. At this early date, we anticipate a $12 million shortfall, which could rise or fall depending on state legislation or whether federal lawmakers adopt an alternative to mandated budget cuts. I intend to protect our schools from this shortfall as much as possible.
Driven by our district strategic plan, which you may read at www.dpsnc.net/stratplan, our budget planning for the 2013-14 school year is underway. We have a budget advisory committee that includes educators, principals, two school board and county commission members, citizens and business leaders. They are meeting to study our budget and provide feedback. This March, we will seek your ideas as well through public surveys and our website. Then, on April 25, I will present my budget proposal to the DPS Board of Education, after which they will hold public hearings and adopt a final budget request for the Board of Commissioners.
In Durham, we do not shy away from hard choices. We set our priorities and apply our limited resources where they will have the greatest benefit to our community. Our strategic plan will help us achieve this focus for our children, but you can help as well. Give us your suggestions and feedback during our budget process. Come to our public hearings. Hold us accountable for our success, and support our teachers and staff as they continue to help our students build a promising future.
Dr. Eric J. Becoats is superintendent of Durham Public Schools. His column appears the last Tuesday of each month.