Becoats: Community provides valuable resource during DPS budget season
In the last three years, Durham Public Schools has faced significant funding decreases. And yet our schools continue to move forward, thanks to a Durham community that steadfastly advocates for children and commits its time and energies on their behalf as volunteers and partners.
Our Durham community stands by our schools for two reasons. First and most importantly, we recognize that our children must realize their potential. Whether it is the academically gifted third grader, the limited English proficient child of Guatemalan parents, the teenager with profound hearing loss, the college-bound senior juggling Advanced Placement classes, or the young child whose parents are climbing out of poverty - each child has gifts to be discovered and nurtured. It is our obligation to help them prepare for a prosperous adulthood.
Second, we stand by our schools because we understand their link to our community’s own prosperity today. For Durham’s economic renaissance to continue, our schools must continue to move forward on the path to becoming truly world-class.
This progress must continue despite the ongoing state and federal financial constraints that have been placed upon our schools; this despite a local commitment to maintaining school funding exemplified by a successful public referendum on a 1/4-cent sales tax increase to support education.
Our priority-driven budget for the 2013-14 school year supports schools and classrooms, maintains current levels of staffing, and directs resources to implement our district Strategic Plan. It does so despite an initial projected shortfall of $15.2 million. Among the inflationary increases and revenue reductions, we are forced to accommodate $1.7 million in federal reductions from budget sequestration, and anticipate enrollment of students—charter and DPS—costing our district another $3 million.
The most surprising and disturbing potential cut, however, was proposed by the Governor’s office as we were well into the budget development process. The budget the Governor submitted to the General Assembly includes statewide funding reductions for teacher assistant positions. If left unaddressed, the impact on Durham would be severe: 80 positions, at a cost of $2.5 million.
We need our teacher assistants. In our elementary schools, where early literacy is vitally important, highly qualified teacher assistants provide individual instruction, assist in assessments, and permit our teachers to provide differentiated instruction. Every child has unique needs. Our youngest students require our most focused attention in order to prepare them for later learning. Teacher assistants are essential to having strong schools and proficient students.
I am presenting for the DPS Board of Education’s consideration a budget that maintains our teacher assistants. We redirect state funding for textbooks and other sources, and draw again from our undesignated fund balance, which we built up in part through a freeze on central services spending. We ask for continuation funding from the Durham County Board of Commissioners as well. Our school board will gather your input at a public hearing and work session on May 1 at the Fuller Building on 511 Cleveland St., and will adopt its budget request to the county commissioners on May 13.
Drawing from our fund balance to preserve our positions has its risks: even with careful budget reductions in other areas, spending from our savings means that there is less available for the next year. If state and federal funding for public education continues to decline, we in Durham will face drastic consequences.
In Durham Public Schools, however, we believe in “One Vision. One Durham.” We must do the right thing for our students today, and that means supporting them with the tools and resources we have at our disposal. I hope that you will study our budget, which you will find at www.dpsnc.net; share your own priorities with our school board, county commissioners and state legislators; and above all stay involved with our schools. As a Durham parent, volunteer or business supporter, you are the most valuable resource our students have.
Eric Becoats is superintendent of Durham Public Schools.