By Connie Leinbach
Hyde County School Superintendent Dr. Randolph H. Latimore, Sr., is not ready to recommend to the School Board of Commissioners to restore Ocracoke’s arts teacher position.
“We need to be reassured that there will be funding for it,” he said in a community meeting Oct. 3 in Ocracoke School attended by about 20 teachers and residents.
In his budget recommendation to the Board of Education at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 7, Latimore said he will ask to restore two teachers’ assistant positions in the district that were eliminated last spring—one for the mainland and one for Ocracoke—as well as a part-time custodian for Ocracoke.
Ocracoke residents may attend via the school’s Information Highway Room. There will be a public comment period near the beginning of the meeting.
In anticipation of state budget cuts to education this spring, the Board of Education agreed to eliminate the art teacher position this year at Ocracoke and Mattamuskeet schools, leaving the district without any formal arts education in both music and art.
“The restoration of full teaching positions is not on the table,” Latimore said. The reason is, again, lack of funding.
He praised state Rep. Paul Tine’s work in getting the Small School Funding restored for rural schools, which means that Hyde County School District will receive $1.7 million, but that allotment still does not make up for the overall loss of about $300,000 of those funds from the approximately $8 million annual budget.
Moreover, the NC General Assembly in this year’s budget approved a 7 percent pay raise for teachers across the state though did not fully fund that increase.
“The state pays for an allotment for salaries,” Latimore said. “If (our total salaries are) outside that allotment we have to find the dollars somewhere.”
In addition, “standard practice” advises that the school district have a fund balance of 8 to 10 percent of its total budget, or about $800,000, Latimore said. The total district budget is $10 million, he said.
To fully fund the current teachers’ salaries this year, he had to take about half of the fund balance to do so leaving about $350,000 in the balance. These fund balances are necessary in case of emergencies, he said.
While he asked the Hyde County Commissioners to make up this difference from their budget, they did not approve that request. The Hyde County commissioners approved a contribution of $1,199,568 from their budget to the school district, which is a reduction of $225,000 since 2009 when their grant was $1,424,568.
As for capital projects (money in a separate fund that can only be used for property maintenance and improvements), the Board of Education has approved for Ocracoke School replacing exterior plywood, aging windows and the cost of the new fence.
Latimore clarified that the moving of a softball field for Mattamuskeet School comes out of this capital projects fund. Unfortunately, the Board of Education did not approve the $10,000 request made by Ocracoke Community Park for the new ball field on Ocracoke because that ball field is not school property.
Another topic Latimore covered is the Early College program that, starting this month, Ocracoke students may enroll in free college courses leading to an associate’s degree from Beaufort County Community College.
These classes would be concurrent with students’ mandatory high school courses and can be taught almost wholly online.
Latimore also announced that Ocracoke School has again received a four-year 21st Century after-school program grant of $1.4 million over four years. This grant’s cycle will focus on academics, said Dr. Linda Willis, the school district’s grant writer.
Willis also talked about the Transformation Zone, a state-run program that focuses on strengthening families of children five and under through home visits by nurses.
All services are through the state, Willis said, and Hyde County has been newly added
“Research has shown that (home visits) can make a tremendous help with family stability,” Willis said, and family stability helps in school success. She said they are still working on getting this important program better implemented for Hyde County.
–Peter Vankevich contributed to this story.