Durham County commissioners want to get Durham Public Schools and charter school leaders together to talk about what’s working and not working in educating local children.
The task may not be as easy as it sounds, said Commissioner Heidi Carter, a former school board chairwoman.
Carter said the Board of Education wanted to collaborate on a vision for quality public schools in Durham about four years ago, but the charter schools and DPS couldn’t agree on all the tenets of that vision.
“The idea of collaboration is not new,” she said. “It’s difficult.”
The idea to try again came as the commissioners received an update Monday from the Durham Charter School Collaborative, which updates the county annually on issues such as diversity, student performance and services for poor and special-needs students.
Charter schools are taxpayer-funded schools that are exempt from some regulations that traditional public schools follow. They receive state and local money based on enrollment, but the funding doesn’t factor in facilities, transportation or free and reduced-price meals for students. All Durham charters provide free and reduced-price lunch and most provide transportation, according to the collaborative.
Durham County’s 13 charter schools educate about 18 percent of publicly funded students in Durham, a percentage expected to hit 20 percent next school year.
DPS officials are asking the county for $3.5 million in new local money next year to pay for charter school growth, salary and benefit increases and fixed costs such as increases in utilities. The county’s 13 charter schools would receive a little more than half the new money.
Commissioner Ellen Reckhow hopes the discussion can be held before the start of the new school year.
Carter warned that the larger ideological question of whether charter schools are good for public education might come up.
Commissioner Brenda Howerton said people should come to the table with children in mind.
“Not our own individual perception or our own individual hatchet,” she said.
“I am all for that,” Carter responded. “I am just saying it’s not going to be an easy, breezy conversation.”
Reckhow said charter schools have made significant improvements, including providing meals and transportation, since commissioners first talked with them 10 years ago.
The commissioners also discussed creating a memorandum of understanding with charter schools to promote transparency about the schools’ performance and access, as well encourage collaboration with traditional public schools.
Charter schools representatives said they would support a facilitated conversation.
County Manager Wendell Davis said he would bring up the meeting at a June 6 meeting with leaders of the City Council, school board and county commissioners.
In other news, about 194 Durham County Sheriff’s Office employees and 99 Emergency Medical Services employees could receive a pay adjustment.
Last fiscal year, Davis recommended officials review compensation for detention officers and paramedics following concerns about turnover rates and competitive salaries raised by the EMS director and the sheriff.
The county set aside $800,000 to implement the study’s recommendations this fiscal year. The changes are expected to cost $201,669 this fiscal year and an annualized cost of $896,024.
The study looked at compensation in 10 counties and four cities, including Durham, Raleigh, Wake and Orange counties.
It found the minimum salary for detention officers in Durham County was 4.86 percent behind the average minimum for the markets studied, but the county’s average salary was 6 percent above the average salary in those markets.
It also concluded that the starting salary for paramedics in Durham County was 11 percent below the average minimum for the markets studied, but the average salary in the county was 2 percent higher than the average salary in those markets.
Detention officers’ starting salaries will be increased from $32,210 to $34,000.
Paramedics’ salaries would go from a pay range of $32,210 to $57,987 to $36,000 to $63,776.
The changes, which took effect last month, will result in other salary adjustments within the departments.
Other actions include offering $1,000 bonuses to paramedics and detention officers after three years of continuous service and a $1,500 payment after five years of continuous service.
Durham County officials plan to continue to study the issue and possibly take additional actions in next year’s budget.