At a meeting on Monday the Orange County Schools (OCS) Board of Education (BOE) supported a budget recommendation that would allocate surplus funding to OCS equity training and other expansion initiatives.
“We needed roughly $34.9 million to fund the continuation budget,” OCS Chief Finance Officer Rhonda Rath said. “The Orange County Board of County Commissioners gave us $35.4 million, giving us an extra $528,000 to apply to expansion initiatives.”
Rath presented a budget update to the BOE on Monday to inform members of the per pupil funding provided by the newly-approved 2019-20 Orange County budget and to share staff recommendations of expansion items to fund for the coming year with the extra $528,000 the district received.
The superintendent-recommended breakdown of this sum among various expansion initiatives would put over $135,000 towards an equity initiative, funding professional development in the form of equity training and establishing an operating budget for the new equity director position in OCS.
This equity funding would be added together with the $260,000 funded by the Orange County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) to both districts for equity initiatives.
The recommended expansion item spending also allows for $81,000 for a “grow our own” tuition assistance initiative that helps pay for the education of OCS teaching assistants or other district staff who are earning the education required to be an elementary, middle or high school teacher.
After equity funding and tuition assistance, the recommendation suggests dividing the remaining funds among a reinstatement of five teaching assistant work days, the addition of a literacy facilitator and the addition of two guidance counselors for New Hope and Cameron Park Elementary Schools -- the district’s largest elementary schools.
Monday’s meeting was attended by members of an interfaith group of clergy from Northern Orange County who hosted a prayer vigil before and after the meeting where they prayed and spoke about equity and safety in OCS. Latarndra Strong, of the Hate-Free Schools Coalition spoke to the BOE during the public comment section of the meeting on behalf of the faith leaders in attendance.
“There are some items that we want you to consider with the extras you have,” Strong said. “It is our hope that you will model the leadership you expect to see in the schools...you will offer strong incentives to hire teachers of color and support them when they get here...you will hire bilingual office staff who will be able to assist students and families when they enter schools...[and] you will build a safety plan where all staff know how to evaluate concerns and when to contact us.”
While the recommendation was supported by the BOE, the OCS budget could face some edits upon approval of the state budget for the coming year, a process which has been delayed by discussion over funding of a Medicaid expansion.
“What do we do if [state legislators] come up with some unexpected, non-funded mandates that we have to incorporate into our school system?” BOE Member Dr. Stephen Halkiotis said. “Is this just going to be a throwing of the dice?”
According to Rath, if the state budget is not approved by the North Carolina legislature by the start of the 2019-2020 fiscal year, the district will continue operating based on last year’s budget.
“When we built the budget, we built it with what we felt was a good estimation of what we felt the legislators may do,” she said. “It’s the luck of the draw. At this point in time we’re not getting any input from Raleigh in regards to what direction other than what we’ve seen in the media. In the worst case scenario, we would have to use fund balance.”