Schools get budgeting break from lawmakers

First Posted: 4/11/2012

When you’re struggling to put together a budget for the upcoming year, given the ongoing shortage of funds, anything that can be construed as being of a positive nature is gratefully accepted.

Take, for example, the word from Raleigh that state public school officials were successful in defeating a requirement by state legislators to extend the length of the school year from 180 to 185 days. One of the things that was at stake was the question of how to fund those additional days — a figure that was estimated as $14 million statewide. While money was not the only thing that local education leaders were concerned with, it was definitely something that had to be addressed before the five additional days became a part of the school year. The other thing that had to be addressed was how to deal with the fact that the extra days would be taken from time that was originally set aside as training time to prepare teachers for next fall’s statewide course of study. June Atkinson, the state school superintendent had expressed the opinion that it was important that teachers have sufficient training-time on these new standards covering all grades and all subjects in order to positively affect student learning. If you didn’t provide sufficient time for teachers to become familiar with and comfortable with the new standards, students probably would not receive the benefits intended.

When you consider the fact that the intent of the five day increase was to fix some of the problems facing our schools, it seemed to make good sense not to complicate things more by making changes that present more problems than they solve. As I told our county commissioners at their April meeting, we do our very best with the resources we have. With all the cuts we endure because of cuts in state funding, we are still responsible for high graduation rates, low dropout rates and good test scores. The federal government continues to have its financial problems which are reflected in their contributions to education and the state, likewise, continues to have financial problems which also affect what they can do to provide for our needs. So that leaves what local government can do to help education for our children. And, while it would certainly help to solve some of our financial problems if it was possible for the county to increase its contribution to education, we understand that the county also has problems which are compounded by the poverty of this area and its people.

And so, as we work to put together next year’s budget, we are pleased that the powers that be in Raleigh have seen fit to set aside the increase in the length of our school year and its attendant expense for at least this year. There’s always the chance that, before it’s considered again, things will have improved economically and it won’t be something to worry about.

Johnny Hunt is the superintendent of the Public Schools of Robeson County.