Cabarrus County Schools wants to raise its teacher supplement, but that increase hinges on what happens to Beverly Hills Elementary School.
During its work session on Monday, June 3, district finance director Kelly Kluttz gave the Cabarrus County Board of Education a budget proposal that would increase the supplement from 8 percent to 9 percent, but that can only happen if Beverly Hills is actually vacated in June 2020; something the community is continuing to fight against.
The proposal says that county commissioners would spend $686,000 to take the supplement from 8 percent to 8.5 percent, and the school district would provide another $686,000 out of its fund balance to increase the supplement for the 2019-2020 school year.
“We are going to open a new high school and we are opening a new middle school. There’s a significant amount of operating costs associated with that, so we understand that funding will be tighter next year just because of the millions of dollars of operational funds,” Kluttz said. “So we felt like this was probably the best opportunity and best year to try to get this increased significantly.”
Kluttz said that since it isn’t good business to pay recurring items using fund balance, in the years following the district would use money from its operational savings to cover that supplement increase.
“So in 2021 and in future years, because this is a continuing expense,” Kluttz said. “That way it’s a win-win. It’s a win-win for the county, it’s a win-win for the school system; it’s certainly a win for the teachers. So that’s the proposal that’s on the table.”
Board members share concerns
Some of the board members didn’t agree that it would be a win-win when they were told that the operational savings to increase the supplement would come from the money saved after Beverly Hills is vacated and its students are moved to Royal Oaks.
The school board voted to vacate the school in June 2020 while still determining if a new school can be built on the site. However, community members have attended several recent meetings to ask the board to reverse that decision and veto the vacate.
“But that’s under the impression they vacated the school, but we haven’t voted to close that school,” Board member Laura Blackwell said after Kluttz made her presentation. “So where is that money going to come the following years?”
Kluttz responded that even if the board votes to rebuild the school, it will still have to go through the process of getting funding for that new school from county commissioners. She said that process could take three to four years.
“Those operational savings are there whether you build another one or whether you don’t,” Kluttz said. “In three, four, five, six years we might have to rethink that and you might have to adjust the supplement back if you want to open up that school. But for the immediate time being, those savings would be there as soon as you vacate that school.”
Blackwell then referenced the recent feasibility study completed by Morris Berg Architects. The company gave two options to possibly rebuild the school, one of which allowed for students to stay in the current school during construction.
She then asked what would happen to this proposal if the board voted to reverse its decision and keep the school open.
“You can, but then you have the county to back out if you change that decision. I believe the commissioners are going on the board has already voted to vacate Beverly Hills,” Board Chair Cindy Fertenbaugh said. “The decision is already made and that’s what their offer was because they are operating on it was already done. At the commissioner budget meetings, they have made repeated comments over the years; they want us to find operational savings to help ourselves.”
Board member Holly Grimsley expressed that she totally agrees with staff about raising teacher supplements, but she can’t agree with connecting those increases to something else. She also said it bothered her that the district has no concrete plan of what to do if R. Brown and Coltrane-Webb— the other two old elementary schools in downtown Concord— have a system failure then the district doesn’t have a place to put those students if Royal Oaks is filled with Beverly Hills students.
And board member Carolyn Carpenter asked if there was another way to find these operational costs. She said that during her long tenure on the board the suggestion to close the Mary Frances Wall Center and move that program to another location has been discussed.
She said that instead of closing Beverly Hills, the board could consider that as an option.
“I don’t think we should pit students against teachers because I think both of them are important. I am not going to do that no matter what, because I think they are both fundamental. I will not be backed into a corner,” Carpenter said expressing her disagreement with this method of funding the supplement. “I’ve got no problem taking $500,000 out of the fund balance this year to fund the teachers to get their supplement where it needs to be, and then fund the money in the future.”
The discussion concluded with another comment from Blackwell and the board deciding to discuss the proposal further at its regular business meeting on Monday, June 10.
“When you do it on the backs of other children that are going to have to lose their school because of this, that’s putting us in a situation that is completely unfair,” Blackwell said. “If it’s that important, find the money.”