Smaller class sizes, charter schools squeezing Chapel Hill-Carrboro school funding

State-mandated lower class sizes and charter schools are putting the squeeze on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board’s budget.

Superintendent Pamela Baldwin’s recommended operating budget requests a $4.6 million increase over the $48.5 million operating budget the Orange County commissioners approved for this school year.

“In my opinion,” board member Joal Broun said, “this whole class size is a fake way to again put pressure on traditional public schools. At the same time as they require this of traditional public schools, there continues to be money going out of the pot [to charter schools]."

The state legislature passed a law in 2016 calling for the average class sizes in kindergarten, first, second and third grades to be no higher than 17 students. The law, which is to go into effect this year, provides no additional money for new classrooms or teachers.

Board member Pat Heinrich noted that the class-size reductions puts a squeeze on both building new schools and hiring new teachers.

“If (every district) is fighting at the same time for 7,000 teachers,” he said, “it just can't happen the way things are structured. … If this is … a way to promote charter schools and make challenges for public schools, it is a multifaceted strategy that we have to get in front of our legislators to address.”

“It’s almost set up to make public schools fail,” board member Margaret Samuels added.

Baldwin said every county in the state already has elementary teacher vacancies.

CHCCS staff anticipates a 6.9 percent increase in teacher's state pay for next school year including benefits, at a cost to the district of nearly $1.5 million.

The budget also anticipates a state-mandated $1,000 pay raise for other employees at a total cost to the district of more than $850,000. These projections would have all employees paid at least the county’s living wage.

The 2017-18 budget included an average salary increase of 3.3 percent for teachers.

Meanwhile, the projected enrollment increase for 2018-19 is 235 pupils, from 12,239 to 12,474. Assuming the county funds growth at the current per pupil rate, the district would receive more than $900,000 in additional county appropriation.

The recommended budget also includes:

More than $400,000 for 11 full-time teacher assistant/bus driver position for each elementary school in the district

More than $200,000 for five additional work days for teacher assistants

More than $200,000 for mental health professionals at each traditional high school in the district

More than $160,000 for a part-time gifted specialist at each middle school in the district

Nearly $160,000 for a middle school behavior support program.

“A lot of this expansion is focused on mental health,” Samuels said. “We’ve been talking a lot more about it. It comes back to that a lot, what’s going on nationally, so I’m very excited about that, and I hope our community sees the need for that.”

Matt Goad: