“We are introducing a bill today that will set aside more money for school construction in our poorest counties and will increase principal and assistant principal pay statewide,” said Sen. Harry Brown (R-Jones) at a press conference Thursday, March 9 at the Legislative Building. Alongside Brown were Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) and Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell).
Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson was also in attendance to support the bill, which Brown said is being introduced because of the deteriorating conditions of rural schools. Brown said, “Our rural counties are struggling and our students deserve better.”
Brown gave examples of schools in Gates County and Hertford County to illustrate the needs in rural areas. “Central Middle School in Gates County is badly in need of repair, and mold and mildew problems have disrupted classes,” Brown said. “The current facility in Hertford County facility is over 100 years old and inadequate in every way. The wiring, lightning and heating are all recurring issues, and the power is subject to failure in poor weather.”
These and other examples are why Brown said he is introducing the bill to provide more funds for school construction in Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties. These are the more rural counties and usually have less population and smaller property tax bases.
Brown said that currently $100 million is used from the lottery for public school construction. The current distribution formula is weighted heavily towards the Tier 3 counties such as Wake and Mecklenburg, since the funds are distributed on a headcount basis. In fiscal year 2015-16, all 40 of the Tier 1 counties received just $11 million of the $100 million. Tier 3 counties received $47 million.
Hyde and Tyrrell Counties received $40,000 each. Brown said, “You can’t even fix a roof for $40,000.”
The bill sets up a needs-based public school capital fund totaling $75 million that will be administered by the superintendent of public instruction. It will be a new and separate fund available to Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties that have critical deficiencies. Another factor will be the ability of the county to generate property and sales tax revenue. Brown said, “A one-cent property tax increase in my county, Jones County, generates about $75,000. That is not even a drop in the bucket for what is needed to finance a major renovation, much less a new school.”
The existing $100 million and its distribution formula will not be changed by this bill.
Hise said that where he is from a new school is a once in a lifetime event, but when he is in Raleigh he hears of many new schools are being built each year.
Tillman said principals are paid on their years of experience, degrees and the size of the school, “That’s not the best way to pay a super executive of a large complex organization like a school,” Tillman said. “You have got to put the best people in the best spots, and you’ve got to have money to recruit these people if you want to turn around any high school you can name, or any middle school or elementary school. It may be low scoring, dirty, the environment’s bad, morale’s bad, discipline’s bad and terrible test scores. You’ve got to be able to put the muscle there.”
His proposal would create a fund based on the average statewide principal pay plus 7 percent for school districts to use for additional principal pay. There will also be some merit pay and bonus opportunities. Also, Tillman said that the bill will help assistant principal pay and make sure they are not making less than teachers.
Tillman said, “Currently we’ve got people in charge of faculty [but the] faculty [are] making more money.”
The funding (around $25 million) would also come from the lottery.
Johnson said, “Education is the great equalizer of opportunity. Every student, no matter what neighborhood they’re from, no matter whether their county is rural or urban, should be able to go to their school, get a great education, work hard and reach their American dream.” He called the bill a “Big, bold innovative idea to get out best leaders in schools, and to improve our schools to be in the condition they should be in the twenty-first century for our students and teachers.”
A question was asked about increased advertising for the lottery in the bill. Traditionally the NC House has resisted the idea of increasing advertising for the lottery.
Tillman said it takes advertising to generate activity in the lottery, which in turn can help with these programs for schools. He added, “I’ve never quite understood that argument that you don’t want to advertise, yet we want to have it. We want to gamble. But, don’t let us gamble much.”