Polk commissioner addresses schools
Paul Beiler discusses state cuts, teacher pay, funding per student
COLUMBUS—With Polk County Schools looking at eliminating 8 positions next year, Polk County Commissioner Paul Beiler addressed several issues going on in the state concerning schools this week.
The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Monday and heard a presentation from Beiler.
“We are fortunate to live in a county that has valued the education system in the past and most assuredly, will value it moving forward,” Beiler said. “At the same time, we do not close a blind eye to the challenges that we face here in Polk County. Next year, it looks like we will be eliminating 8 positions, 6 teaching and 2 assistant positions.”
Beiler said to be clear the eliminations are not because Polk County is reducing funding. On the contrary, the cuts are coming from the state and the proposed budget includes approximately $300,000 more in funding from the county to its schools next year to fund the after-school program.
“Which will have my full support,” Beiler said.
Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene said the school system has lost more than $1 million in the last few years in state funding and 87 percent of that has been personnel costs. He said next year there will only be two people who are actually losing jobs with the cuts. Some are being eliminated through retirements and others through employees moving away.
“The support we get from you guys is tremendous,” Greene said. “Thank you for the partnership. We look forward to working with you guys to keep us moving forward in the future.”
Beiler spoke of Polk County Schools being ranked as the highest performing school system in North Carolina.
“Our education in Polk County is second to none,” he said.
The 2017-2018 school year is the fourth year that public and charter schools will receive a letter grade under the General Assembly’s A through F School performance grades based on the percentage of students passing end of grade assessments and the students’ academic growth. Beiler said Polk County is one of only two school systems in North Carolina to have 100 percent of their schools earning a grade of B or higher on that assessment.
“This does not just happen by accident nor did we just happen to get lucky,” Beiler said.
Beiler said he is proud to live in a county who partners with its school system like Polk County does.
In 2017-2018, Polk County’s current expense per student was $2,732, which ranks Polk as 18th in the state for funding level per student.
Beiler said Dare County is number one at $4,371 per child, while the surrounding counties of Henderson and Rutherford are lower at $2,002 and $1,708 respectively per student. Graham County is last in the state at $477 per student, Beiler said.
He said when he hears misinformation it concerns him and he takes it very personally. He recognized the Polk County School Board and Superintendent Greene, saying they do what they do because they have a passion to see this county succeed in every way possible.
Beiler reviewed some state statistics, including that the National Education Association ranks North Carolina as 39th in the country per pupil funding, which puts North Carolina in the bottom 30 percent in the southeast.
Beiler said between the 2008-2009 school year and the 2017-2018 school year, state per pupil spending went from $8,867 ($10,483 in today’s dollars) to $9,528.
Beiler said while the trend of our local school system has seen a decline in school enrollment, North Carolina public schools have added more than 90,000 students, including many more English language learners and students living in poverty.
Almost half of North Carolina’s children live in poor or low-income households, according to NCChild.org, he said, and classroom supplies funding reduced from $66 (adjusted for inflation) to $30 per student.
“The preliminary estimates from last year ranked North Carolina 37th in average teacher pay in the United States and 6th in the southeast,” Beiler said. “But after adjustments, the final NEA rankings for last year placed North Carolina at 34th with an average teacher salary of $51,231-18 positions behind the national average of $60,462.”
Commissioner Chair Tommy Melton said he was elected to a four-year term and is not running for re-election.
“I am sick and tired of people coming in here using this platform to get statements out there that are lies,” Melton said. “This board has been accused of taking money from the school to repair the dam. People come in here and use this platform to get their name in the paper to get elected.”
He said there is nothing more important in Polk County than our youth.
While no one mentioned his name during the meeting, the reference was of Keith Holbert, a former commissioner who spoke during a recent meeting saying he would rather his tax dollars go towards the school system than repairing the Turner Shoals Dam. Commissioner vice chair Myron Yoder wrote a letter to the editor addressing Holbert’s comments last week and Holbert responded to Yoder, with his letter in today’s edition on page 20.
Commissioner Ray Gasperson said Monday night he wishes they could get this message in Raleigh as he is sick and tired to seeing what’s coming out of Raleigh. He said the state taking one cent out of the sales tax was devastating to education.
“I am immensely proud to be in this county,” Gasperson said.
He said Polk is a rarity in how it supports its schools and he cannot imagine that ever changing in Polk County.
Beiler ended his presentation by saying there are many challenges ahead in the area of education and encouraged everyone to speak to the ones that represent Polk County in Raleigh.
“In the meantime, we here in this county will continue to support and partner with our schools and I feel certain that we will do all that we can do to ensure that our future remains bright and secure, for I agree with Malcolm X when he said, ‘education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.’”