by Cindy McMahon
Did you ever attend a Buncombe County School Board meeting or watch a video recording? If so, you may be familiar with these fun facts: Board of Education agendas usually include a Budget Amendment. They almost always include Good News and a Curriculum Feature. We often hear from members of the community during Public Comment. And we often vote on some aspect of a building project.
But the October meeting was a biggie: the curriculum feature focused on the newly released and much-discussed 2016-17 school performance grades, and we approved the full budget for the year.
School Performance Grades
The letter grades that schools are given by the NC Department of Public Instruction are controversial. Public school advocates argue that the grades are misleading, that the grades oversimplify the complicated nature of education, and that they don’t accurately represent the success of our public education system. Critics of public education disagree.
As with most of life, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. As Associate Superintendent Susanne Swanger pointed out in our meeting, when you look at the school grades for Buncombe County, “You will see some excellent school performance measures and you will also see our disappointments and challenges.”
Here are a few key points from the Reynolds District:
• For the overall School Performance grades, our district received mostly Bs and Cs, with one D. The D was Oakley Elementary: although they met expected growth, their achievement score (which makes up 80% of the overall grade) was just below the C level. Unfortunately, research shows that higher levels of poverty in schools correlate closely with lower achievement levels. This reality is reflected in Oakley’s challenges.
• All but two schools in our district met or exceeded expected growth. Reynolds High and Bell Elementary did not quite make their growth targets, but Fairview Elementary exceeded growth. All BCS schools will have a laser-like focus on growth this year. After all, growth means learning. Even though this category only makes up 20% of each school’s grade and is based on a limited number of courses, our goal is to help all students learn.
Overall, we were pleased to hear that Buncombe County’s graduation rate continues to increase. As Testing Director Steve Earwood pointed out, the graduation rate is the “final measure” of what our public schools are all about. The presentation led to a lively Board discussion of the grading system, with general agreement that the daily successes of our classrooms simply can’t be captured in a grading system based on such limited factors.
Because we can’t pass a budget until we have official numbers from the state, we are often several months into the school year before we pass a budget. It usually happens in November — but we were a month earlier this year.
Although state and local funds increased over last year, the 2017-18 budget is 3.4 percent lower than last year, due to decreases in federal, capital, and other specific revenue funds. Personnel costs make up 82% of the overall budget, including the second phase of a two-year increase to the local supplement for licensed teachers, thanks to the Buncombe County Commissioners. As Superintendent Tony Baldwin pointed out, this supplement allows our school system to “continue to recruit and retain highly qualified applicants and remain competitive with surrounding school systems.”
Budget concerns loom on the horizon for next year. As Dr. Baldwin indicated, House Bill 13 class size restrictions for K-3 are scheduled for 2018-19. While we all agree that smaller classes benefit students, this is an unfunded mandate, and school systems will have to cut funding for vital arts, foreign languages, and PE offerings to fund smaller classes. In addition, we simply do not have the classroom space to accommodate these changes.
No matter how you interpret grades and budget numbers, it is clear that school performance and school funding are inextricably linked. Public education is the foundation of our democracy. And if we want our schools to be successful, we must ensure they receive adequate resources.
Reynolds Rock Stars
Carol Buckner, Head Secretary at Oakley Elementary, was recognized at the Board meeting for 50 years of service. What a milestone! And Reynolds High School’s own Beth Love was recently recognized as Teacher of the Year for all of Buncombe County Schools. She will go on to compete at the regional level. Love is also a Reynolds High graduate. We couldn’t be more proud of her commitment, passion, and talent. Congratulations to these Reynolds Rock Stars!
Find details of School Board meetings at www.BuncombeSchools.org.
Cindy McMahon is the Reynolds District Representative, Buncombe County School Board. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.