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Superintendent asks city for funding

Stanly County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff James provided the Albemarle City Council with information on current trends, accomplishments and challenges within the system, as well as statistics and updates on various programs and funding specific to schools within Albemarle during the council’s Monday night meeting.

At the end of the more than a 45-minute presentation, James appealed to the council for future funding to provide supplements to teachers at Albemarle Middle and Albemarle High.

“Any funds from the city budget that could help provide teacher stipends at AHS and AMS would be of great value,” James said.

James presented information on the RESTORE grant, a $3.7 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education which is shared with Montgomery County Schools and targets five high-needs schools in each county. Resources from the grant will benefit four Albemarle-based schools, making possible the hiring of assistant principals, behavioral support specialists, trauma counselors and teaching assistants.

In addition, programs such as Too Good for Drugs and Violence and Schools that Lead are funded by the grant and will be implemented at all targeted schools.

Overall, the Stanly schools funded by the grant will receive $2 million in additional support, which, according to James, is distributed among Albemarle High School ($280,000), Albemarle Middle School ($460,000), Central Elementary ($680,000) and East Albemarle Elementary ($580,000) and will directly benefit the students at each school.

“We are trying to put dollars into the classrooms, where it counts the most,” he said, noting that central office staff has been cut significantly over the past few years in an effort to direct additional resources to the schools.

Questions from Councilwoman Shirley Lowder regarding funding of mental health counselor positions led James to speak critically regarding the philosophy of the state legislature toward public education.

“Our problem is that our state does not want to fund public education…or any education for that matter,” said James, who had earlier referenced the legislature’s cuts of early childhood learning programs such as universal pre-K, Smart Start and others as resulting in children being less prepared for school now than several years ago.

“These are the toughest times I’ve ever seen,” he continued, referring to the challenges facing teachers.

James also cautioned council members about news coming out of Raleigh regarding teacher salaries, pointing out that large population centers have the tax base to pay much higher local supplements than most, and that those salaries skew the average for the remainder of the state.

“You read that average teacher salaries are above $50,000, but that is because they figure in the large local supplements paid in counties like Wake, Mecklenburg, Guilford and Union,” he said, noting smaller counties do not have sufficient funds to match the salary add-ons provided by larger systems.

Councilman Chris Bramlett questioned James regarding the “community schools” concept often referenced in debates on consolidation, redistricting and school closures.

“If everyone in the county went to the school closest to their home, the Albemarle schools would be full,” said Bramlett, “yet we talk about holding on to ‘neighborhood schools.’ ”

“That’s out of my lane,” James said. “That’s what you elect a school board for. The quickest way for a superintendent to lose his job is to recommend redistricting or closing schools.”