Ocracoke School. Photo by P. Vankevich

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North Carolina state Senate Bill 15, which appropriates additional dollars to pay for teachers in “isolated schools,” passed the Senate April 27 and is now in the state House of Representatives awaiting action.

According to information on ncleg.net, the Senate authorized $1,527,006 to pay for teacher salaries for schools in rural counties. It is now House Bill 23 and contains the same language and appropriation as the Senate version.

If this bill does not pass, the Ocracoke School would lose five teachers and the only option available would be to combine the eight elementary and middle school grades into five grades.

Ocracoke’s only school contains all grades, pre-K through 12, in one building, and has a total of 188 students.

Henri McClees, a lobbyist hired by Hyde County to promote its interests in Raleigh, said the bill passed the House and is now in the Committee on Rules, which is a place to park bills for further action.

The Legislature will roll out the state budget next week, then the committees will meet, she said.

This bill will be sent to the House Standing Committee on Education, which meets every Tuesday.

McClees said the committee will look at the Senate version and may approve it as is.  But if they want to modify it, and if that new version passes the House, it would then go through a reconciliation process.

That outcome would be noted on a conference report, which each House would again vote on. If passed, Gov. Roy Cooper could either sign it, veto it, or let it sit for 30 days, after which time it automatically becomes law.

McClees noted that this bill passed the Senate 49-0, with one member having been absent.

“So that’s a very good sign,” she said. “Nobody objected.”

Hyde County school officials have been in Raleigh bird-dogging the bill.

“We do not anticipate any problems with the bill being favorably received and passed in the House,” Dr. Randolph Latimore, superintendent of Hyde County schools in an email.

He said that he and Ocracoke School Principal Walter Padgett will travel to Raleigh for any committee hearings on the bill in case the legislators have specific questions.

The bill states that the State Board of Education shall provide additional classroom teachers to schools containing grades kindergarten through 12 when consolidation is not feasible due to the geographic isolation of the school and the school meets at least one of the following criteria for geographic isolation:

  1. The school is located in a local school administrative unit in which the average daily membership is less than 1.5 per square mile.
  2. The school is located in a local school administrative unit for a county containing more than 150,000 acres of national forest owned by the federal government and managed by the U. S. Forest Service pursuant to 15 G.S. 104-5.

The members of the House Standing Committee on Education K to 12 and their contact information can be found here.

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