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We need to look at every possible Chatham County school budget solution

By Mia Munn
Posted Monday, February 14, 2011

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Pittsboro, NC - I know this is a difficult budget year. Whether or not the school board decides to reconfigure the schools, they will need to make significant cuts. If I am critical of the alternatives being proposed, I think it is fair to expect me to come up with alternatives. Below are concrete suggestions I have received from teachers in the Chatham County schools who do not feel comfortable speaking up in public and from other sources, as well as my own ideas.

Suggestions I have received from teachers:

· Stop buying science kits (teachers know how to use them, and materials can be procured through PTA or donations)

· Eliminate Testing Coordinators

· Eliminate Instructional Facilitators

· Eliminate AIMWeb (if it is not state mandated)

· Have custodians handle lawn care instead of outsourcing.

· Stop paying for AP exams for all students (means test based on FRL status or only reimburse for passing scores as in the past)

· Stop paying for PSAT tests for freshmen and sophomores (or means test based on FRL status, or only pay for students who have or are taking Geometry as in the past)

· Eliminate the convocation before school opens

· Eliminate Spanish before high school in the short term (except for bilingual program)

· Eliminate the teacher recruitment position, since we are losing teachers

· Eliminate the construction supervisor position since there are no major construction projects in the capital plan

Budget cutting ideas from other places:

Richmond County Schools have a School Savings - Share your ideas web page, so that anyone can contribute large or small suggestions. Many businesses do this as well.

I posted a question on LinkedIn (a business networking site) asking how other districts are addressing the shortfall. Here are the suggestions (aside from the sarcastic ones) that I received.

· Through community education classes, additional emphasis on off-time facility rental, strategic partnerships with aligned organizations, and offering student programs that provide a competitive edge, a school system can attract students and increase unrestricted funds.

· There may be opportunities to reduce FTEs without effecting student services or classrooms. For instance, RNs, maintenance staff, counselors, bus drivers and other non-classroom costs can be assessed.

· Budget issues, however, have to be addressed collaboratively -- including parents, teachers, classified staff, and even student representatives (high school level) -- to be most successful. The problem has to be one that is shared, with the solution equally shared. When administrators or school boards attempt to impose a fix, community revolts can result -- and that's certainly not productive.

· Austerity has to be implemented in a totally different way - by cutting whole pieces of meaninglessness; NOT by distributing the cuts evenly over all parts of education delivery apparatus - that's a very mediocre and unsubstanceful (sic) approach. In fact, difficult to even call it a 'solution' approach, it rather spells cerebral banality than solutioning or leadership or wise judgment.

My suggestions:

Benchmark our Central Office positions against comparable counties, and reduce our staffing levels to the average of those counties. (We very effectively using benchmarking to reduce staffing and make our Child Nutrition program fiscally stable.) Mr. Logan gave me this list of counties he considers comparable to Chatham: Carteret, Davie, Edgecombe, Haywood, Pender, Richmond, and Vance.

Assistant Superintendents: Haywood and Pender County have only one assistant/associate Superintendent. Carteret, Davie, Edgecombe, and Vance each have two. Only Richmond has three as we do. The average of all eight counties is two assistant/associate Superintendents. If we eliminated one of our three positions, that would save between $158 thousand and $167 thousand, including salary and benefits.

Directors: I was unable to find detailed information on the other counties director-level employees, but my impression is that we frequently have a Director in positions the comparable counties have a manager. We should be able to downgrade some positions (which may mean letting the current employee go and replacing him/her with a lower level employee). This economy means that good employees have lost their jobs, so it is a good market to hire experienced people at a lower level than might be possible in a better economy.

Finance Department: Comparable counties, with similar numbers of students, employees, and schools, should need similar numbers of finance positions. CCS staff should be able to get information on numbers of positions for this and other areas from the comparable counties. Our Finance Department includes a Chief Operating Officer, an Administrative Assistant, and six other employees. (This does not include the Child Nutrition Director, Child Nutrition Administrative Assistant, and Child Nutrition Accounting Manager.)

Human Resources Department: Comparable counties, with similar numbers of employees, should need similar numbers of finance positions. Our HR Department includes an Assistant Superintendent, a Director, an Administrative Assistant, and five other employees.

Administrative Assistants: There are 16 employees with the title Administrative Assistant in our Central Office (according the district website). In business, it is rare to have an Administrative Assistant below the Vice President level; directors do not have their own administrative assistants, particularly not multiples in the same department. CCS has at least nine Administrative Assistants to Directors.

Other Central Office Departments: I am less familiar with other departments, but a similar exercise should be done for all central services.

Review all of the staffing against the state staffing guidelines. Any non-classroom position in excess of the guidelines should be eliminated. Classroom positions in excess of the guidelines should be at the top of the list if classroom cuts are necessary.

Ask Mr. Logan to forego voluntarily his potential bonus for the next school year. Though this is a very small amount of money, it is an important symbol, and would be well received by the teachers and other staff. (Neal Pedersen, superintendent of Chapel Hill Carrboro Schools, voluntarily turned down his bonus two years ago when the economy first declined.)

Consider bringing the AVID program coordination in-house, at employee cost (or part of an employee) instead of consultant cost. Consultants typically are much more expensive than employees.

Re-examine all cuts that were considered but not made over the past two school years. I could only find the original list from 3/1/2010 board presentation, but I’m sure you can get the complete list of what the budget committee considered and what was presented to you in the different scenarios.


Employer's Dental Insurance

Reduction of Summer Months of Employment (MOE)

Overtime Reduction 25%

Testing Coordinators 3 positions

Career Development Coordinators 2 positions

Career Technical Education paid from State 001 5 positions

Local Supplements

Spanish Middle School 4.5 positions

Teacher/Media Assistants 197.13 positions All Funds

Academically Intellectually Gifted (AIG) 9 positions

Physical Education (K-8) 13 positions

Student Assistance Facilitators 3 positions

Central Office Administrators Salary 13 positions

Reading K-8 12.3 positions

Art Education K-8

Art 10 positions

Choral/General Music 10.5 positions

Band 4 positions

Clerical 76.5 positions All Funds

Instructional Services Division Facilitators (MOE 89.5)

Instructional Technology Facilitators 3 positions

Coaching Supplements

Teacher positions

Social Workers 5 positions

Nurses 6 positions

English as a Second Language 26.3 positions

In School Suspension 11.25 positions

Custodians 631.76 Months of Employment All Funds

Assistant Principals MOE 136

Curriculum Coaches nine positions

High School Athletic Directors 3 MOE

High School Band Directors 3 MOE

New Teacher Signing Bonuses

General Operating Costs

School Instructional Allotments (Supplies & Materials)

Instructional Field Trips

School Based Rewards


Exceptional Children

AIG Supplies & Materials

Instructional Supplies & Materials - Central Office

Local Staff Development

CTE Program Support (National CTSO Competitions)

Board Expenses

Transportation - Yellow Buses

Transportation Cost - Activity Buses

I know this is a difficult process. I also know that there are many talented, imaginative problem-solvers in this community.

We need to look at every possible solution, and as one of the LinkedIn answers said, “Austerity has to be implemented in a totally different way - by cutting whole pieces of meaninglessness; NOT by distributing the cuts evenly over all parts of education delivery apparatus - that's a very mediocre and unsubstanceful (sic) approach. In fact, difficult to even call it a 'solution' approach, it rather spells cerebral banality than solutioning or leadership or wise judgment.” That will not be easy, but it is the best long-term solution for the effectiveness of the school system.

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We need to look at every possible Chatham County school budget solution