Despite bipartisan support among the county’s state legislators, two bills that would grant Macon County Schools additional teaching allotments for its two K-12 schools seem to have stalled in committee.
Senate Bill 733, sponsored by Sen. Jim Davis (R-Franklin) and House Bill 815, sponsored by Representatives Phil Haire (DSylva) and Roger West (R-Marble), were both introduced in the spring session. Both bills were referred from their originating committee to other committees in the chamber, and both are technically still under consideration.
Of the three non-alternative, K-12 public schools in the state of North Carolina, two are in Macon County – Nantahala School and Highlands School. Both schools are in remote areas of the county, separated from other schools in the district by mountainous terrain.
The third such school in the state, Ocracoke Island School in Hyde County, was approved in 2009 for a special teacher allotment in legislation supported by Rep. Timothy Spear (DCreswell). The legislation, which was tailored specifically to the school in Spear’s district, did not extend to other K-12 schools in the state which operate under similar constraints. K-12 schools are required to offer a full curriculum to their students despite operating under tighter state funding constraints due to the fact that funding is based on enrollment.
Dr. Dan Brigman, superintendent of Macon County Schools, said that the goal of both bills was to give special consideration to the district because of its two K-12 schools. In a phone interview on July 5, he added he was still hopeful that the bills might be reviewed or even possibly passed in the summer session.
“With our K-12 schools, the dollar must stretch a lot further,” said Brigman. While it may cost as little as $6,600 to operate a larger school like Macon Middle School, an isolated K-12 school like Nantahala may require as much as $10,000 per student.
“Though Nantahala is a Title 1 school under federal guidelines, receiving support for each student that falls into the category, the smaller class sizes mean that state funding must be spread out across a wider area to support staff and services for each grade level,” Brigman explained.
Sen. Davis recently confirmed that S 733 has not made it to the Senate floor and probably won’t be considered this year.
“Anytime you have a K-12 school, it makes it more expensive to run that school,” said Davis, adding the intention of his bill was to make the state’s treatment on K-12 public schools more equitable. “All this bill would have done is to try to make them all equal,” Davis said. “If they’re going to get funds for a K-12 school on the coast, they ought to treat the ones in the mountains the same.”
Davis said that while he will continue to support the bill and that it could possibly reach a vote in next year’s short session. The current budgetary climate in the General Assembly bodes against any additional expenditures.
Rep. Haire said that the House bill has also languished after being referred to the House Rules Committee. He said that one reason HB 815 may have stalled was that members wanted to first see the outcome of the Senate version. Haire maintains the bill is not “dead,” but added that it would most likely be the 2012 short session before it was reviewed again.
Haire also noted that while most successful bills have already made the crossover to the other chamber by this point, the House bill is essentially a funding bill, meaning that as it is not considered a new piece of legislation, it has a better chance of moving forward.
According to Brigman, any additional funding seen by passage of such a bill would be used to recover the local funding for teaching positions that will be necessary to fill the 5.8 percent budget gap created by state mandated reversions. The funds could potentially be equivalent to as many as four teaching positions in the county at approximately $55,000 per position.
The 2009 legislation that gave assistance to Hyde County for its Ocracoke K-12 limited the scope of the allotment with the criteria that students attend a K-12 school that are confined to a 1.5 square mile radius. Brigman said that he agreed that Ocracoke deserved the added support a K-12 school serving an isolated population of students, which he noted was no different from Macon County's K-12 schools. “Instead of being surrounded by water, we’re in a valley that’s geographically isolated,” he explained.