Apr. 6 — In the wake of a perfect storm of budget issues, Haywood County Schools plans to reduce the number of locally-funded teachers from 34 down to 13 during the 2022-23 school year.
In presenting his proposed budget to the school board during a work session on March 31, Superintendent Bill Nolte said the district plans to make that reduction through natural attrition like retirements and resignations, with layoffs a last resort.
“We may be forced to do a few of those, but we will work very hard to do them through natural attrition,” Nolte said.
Nolte detailed the conundrum the district finds itself in to members of the school board.
“From a financial standpoint, if we can get to 13 by the time school starts or sometime during the first semester next year, that would be good,” said Nolte, “But we do not have to get to 13 to accomplish what we need to accomplish to make sure our school system is staffed and managed. “
There are currently 499 teachers in Haywood County Schools, and roughly 6.8% of those (34) are locally-funded. Reducing that number of locally-funded teachers to 13 would mean 21 teachers need to retire or resign. That’s about the number of locally paid teachers the school system had pre-COVID.
The last “normal” school year prior to COVID was 2018-19, and the district employed 22 locally-funded teachers.
While the reduction is not a requirement, it’s part of the broader budget plan.
“I think we would be in really good shape if we were able to get to 13. There’s no rule or requirement that we get to 13,” he said.
The need for reduction comes after a perfect storm of budget issues ranging from additional staff during COVID (state and federal governments required additional positions to bridge learning gaps and for mental health services) to increased teacher salaries (in addition to increased salaries for most other staff members).
The loss of COVID relief funds that many districts have depended on for the past couple of years is a major part of the coming reductions, he added.
Reducing teachers was the last resort, Nolte said.Many other parts of the budget were cut back as well to make up for the budget shortfall.
For example, Nolte said the district has significantly reduced the number of summer maintenance employees, and therefore the benefits and supplements that go along with those positions.
Certain budget line items were also reduced. For instance, the budget for repair parts, materials and labor for school buses went from $ 145,142 in 2021-22 to $ 75,000 in 2022-23. The budget for middle school remediation went from $ 96,440 in 2021-22 to $ 65,000 in 2022-23.
In addition to budget cuts, Nolte said the district is always looking at ways to cut expenses from the budget to make sure more teachers do not need to be let go.
“We will continue to look at ways to find special revenue. Sometimes we get lucky and we can write a grant or the state or federal governments offer one-time money that helps us bridge the gap between our current operation to the operation of a little smaller school system. Also, we’re working on spending. We’ll talk to principles and directors on spending what they absolutely need to spend, “Nolte said.
All in all, Nolte said he and his team have pondered just about every imaginable idea before deciding to reduce the number of teachers.
“To our employees, we plan to make every effort to do that through normal attrition like resignation and retirement,” Nolte said.
Locally-funded teachers, to put it simply, are teachers whose positions are paid for by tax revenue from Haywood County. The specific teachers who are locally funded changes year-to-year and sometimes, during the school year, Nolte said.
The reasons a school district may have locally paid teachers vary and include such things as reducing class sizes or offering added programs not covered by state funding.
Nolte said the state pays for a certain number of teachers each year. When a state-paid teacher with many years of experience (and therefore, higher pay) retires, the district will move a locally-paid teacher into that position. The reason for that is that the state authorizes a certain number of teachers, not a certain dollar amount. So it makes sense for districts to put their highest-paid teachers in those state-funded positions.
“Most of our higher paid teachers are paid by the state. Not always, but most of the time, the next higher paid group is federal. Federal usually gives them dollar amounts. And with local, it’s dollars. That’s why you pay for higher people out of state, “Nolte said.
The federal and local governments offer dollar amounts toward teacher salaries. No matter which way a teacher is hired, Nolte said they know that they have to have either state positions or federal money, or local money available when they hire teachers.
In North Carolina, Nolte explained, when a district reduces the number of staff, in any position, they must follow state rules for reducing staff. This is especially true if the school system is forced to make cuts.
In that case, the more tenured teachers and, therefore, the highest-paid, are required to be let go last, in many instances.
“If it’s an action that the school system has a decision in, then the people with more experience and tenure would be the last ones to go. We would still have rules and regulations in place to require us to keep people with more experience,” Nolte said. “We may be forced to do a few of those, but we will work very hard to do them through natural attrition.”
A more in-depth analysis of the school budget will be in this Sunday’s issue of The Mountaineer.