Stanly school board, commissioners discuss security, pay, facilities

Published 6:25 am Friday, May 12, 2023

Stanly County Commissioners and Board of Education members discussed funding, school safety and other topics at Wednesday’s joint meeting.

Stanly County Schools (SCS) Superintendent Dr. Jarrod Dennis delivered a PowerPoint presentation to both boards, outlying three budgeting priorities: staff pay supplements, school resource officers and capital funding.

Dennis said recruitment and retention is a problem, with many teachers and other employees leaving to work in surrounding counties for more money.

“We’re not always going to compete with a larger district like Charlotte-Mecklenburg,” Dennis said.

Using a chart from the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, Dennis noted Stanly County ranked 94th out of 115 school districts in the amount of money spent per student. Stanly spent $1,363 per student in the 2020-21 academic year, down from $1,634 in 2019-20.

Surrounding counties like Cabarrus rank higher in the 2020-21 year in money per student. Cabarrus ranks 28th ($2,408 per student) while Union is 31st ($2,282) and Rowan 34th ($2,207). Montgomery is 36th ($2,166) and Anson is 50th ($1,903). This year, Stanly is at $1,634 per student, below the $2,457 state average.

Dennis talked about increasing certified supplements from 5% to 6%.

The superintendent said the class sizes for kindergarten through third grade mandate hiring additional teachers, “but the funding allotment doesn’t support the smaller class sizes.”

He said kindergarten classes have to average 18 students, with 16 in first grade and 17 in second and third.

Dennis also said raises for classified non-state workers are funded locally, while state workers receive their raises from state funds. Moving those workers to $13 per hour would cost the district $245,100, and a raise to $15 would cost $1.04 million.

SCS Chief Financial Officer Terry Dudney said SCS “will still have to meet the maximums the state puts in place with new scale.” He added SCS has some cafeteria workers who have worked for 25 years or more but are still at the $15/hour rate.

County Manager Andy Lucas said cafeteria workers are set up differently with enterprise funds.

“You’re generating revenue, and there is more revenue than expanse,” Lucas said. “If you’re generating revenue, why aren’t you paying them more?”

Dennis said they were not making a lot of money.

“Are you allocating more positions than what your allotment is paying for? Again, that is a local policy position,” Lucas said.

School Board member Dustin Lisk said SCS has 300 new students this year, but unless schools meet a certain number the state “is not going to fund that teacher position. But we have to, by law, teach these kids, and we have to, per the state, keep out district average…we are sort of pushing that limit.”

Dudney said non-certified staff and non-structural support covers custodians, teacher assistants and support staff. He said SCS can only fund 30 custodians. “Where are you going to put 30 custodians when you have 20-something facilities? One custodian can not clean a whole building.”

Dennis noted the state funded SCS last year based on 8,160 students, but the number now is closer to 8,600. He said students coming to SCS from outside the county have to pay a tuition fee equal to the cost of what a family would be in local taxes. This year, that tuition, according to Dudney, was $1,571.

The shortage of school resource officers (SRO) was also discussed by the two boards.

Five schools do not have a full-time SRO: Aquadale, Badin, Endy, Millingport and Richfield.

SCS applied received grant funds which pay off-duty officers to serve as school SROs.

However, according to Lucas, the $35,000 per officer only pays about half of the salary and benefits an officer receives. Dennis noted the other half comes from a state grant of over $36,000.

Sheriff Jeff Crisco said officers are limited as to the amount of off-duty work they can do.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Scott Efird asked about the 1/4-cent tax funds, which was to go to “public education initiatives,” according to the county’s website.

Dudney said added security measures were paid for by capital outlay money, adding local money can not directly be used. It must be transferred from local current expense to capital outlay for line items.

He said, when asked for what the sales tax money was being used, it goes to “local paid teachers,” as well as custodians and office support staff.

Efird then asked about cameras and security upgrades, whether they were completed.

School Board member Bill Sorensen said the security level “is not there” for Badin or Locust schools “by any stretch of the imagination.”

“There are places we don’t have camera coverage facing streets,” Sorenson said. “I could walk into Badin any day and be inside shooting the place up, to get past the doors, which happened in Tennessee, without being on a camera.”

He said he goes into security with a worst-case scenario mentality.

“I wish we had $20 million to spend on security right now to firm things up, to get camera coverage and more fences,” Sorensen said, adding the improvements are continuing.

School Board Chairwoman Glenda Gibson said during town hall meetings regarding the sales tax increase, it was her understanding “it was solely for security.”

Efird said he believed in SROs.

“I would argue SROs are as just a big part of security as cameras,” he said.

The boards also discussed school facilities. An updated evaluation will be available once population forecasts are done. Dennis said the study should be ready in early June.

Initial data from the Numerix project, Dennis said, suggests “significant growth on the western end of Stanly County.”

The boards also talked about the number of open bus driver positions, which is 11, but two drivers are nearly complete with their three-month training.

Lisk said other counties pay up to $21 per hour to bus drivers, while Stanly pays $15.

“It’s all about paying them more. Eighteen dollars seems to be number we would like to get to with our funding,” Lisk said.

“The future is changing,” Commissioner Peter Asciutto added. “You’re going to have something else that’s going to come up to make it easier to educate their kids. You just have to make tough decisions. You have to put everything on the table.”

Asciutto said consolidating schools would mean less bus drivers would be needed.

“These school buildings are old and terrible. I see us just fixing these band-aids without having a plan for the future,” he said.

Lisk asked: “How much money do we have to work with?”

“We need to know how much that new house is to be built before we fund it,” Asciutto said.

When Lisk asked if commissioners funded that plan, Commissioner Bill Lawhon said “the taxpayers funded the plan.”

Lisk said, “That’s the point. We know the buildings need to be repaired.”

One heated exchange then took place between Sorensen and County Commissioner Trent Hatley. Sorensen said to commissioners, “if you’re happy with being 94th in the state for local funding, you’re not doing your job.” He also noted the 120 vacancies for SCS jobs.

“Be careful about pointing your finger,” Hatley said.

Noting his family’s day care businesses, which he said employ 40 people and takes care of 250 kids, Hatley said, “If I ran my (businesses) like you run the school system, I would be done. We wouldn’t last a week.”

Lisk said, “We are going to have to talk and going to have to work together, the two entities. I’ll be long gone when stuff happens, but these two entities need to communicate.”

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio has served as the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press for more than 16 years and has written numerous news and feature storeis as well. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also won an award from Boone Newspapers, and has won four North Carolina Press Association awards.

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