State school leaders set legislative priorities

By Wendy Byerly Wood -

State school system leaders have developed a list of five recommended priorities they would like to see the Legislature taken action on for 2016, and Elkin City Schools Superintendent Dr. Randy Bledsoe was on hand in Mooresville recently during a press conference held to announce the priorities publicly.

“The North Carolina Association of School Administrators asks that the General Assembly, the Governor, the State Board of Education and other state leaders work with our organization and the 7,000 school leaders in our membership on focused initiatives that will attract and retain the highest quality personnel to work in public schools across the state and to support enhanced achievement of North Carolina students, ensuring readiness for competition in our global economy,” states the organization in the introduction to the 2016 legislative priorities.

“This is not an individual request, but all the superintendents who have concerns about the future of education under our current Legislature,” explained Bledsoe of the recommendations. “We have professional organizations we belong to and sometimes the professional organizations each develops its own yearly goals and what they think their priorities are.

“The North Carolina School Superintendents Association and the North Carolina Association of School Administrators — the unique thing is we have blended those two professional organizations so we’ve not only come up with a legislative list of priorities, we are sharing with local authorities so that authorities from across the state — a representative from Surry County and one from Cumberland County who may be on the same committee and they start talking about education — they have our list of priorities,” he said. “Instead of me in Elkin City Schools saying my top three, and a leader from Cumberland having a different three priorities, we are on the same page.”

The five priorities set forth by the two associations focus on issues of low-performing schools and school performance grades; increased compensation for all educators and school personnel; invest adequate resources in North Carolina public schools; accountability in school choice options; and regulatory reform.

“We all work toward improving education in our communities and right now we have united from across the state saying this is what’s important for education in North Carolina,” Bledsoe said. “We represent our staffs, our students, our communities united. It carries a stronger front for public education. It is not just one school community, it is this community and 115 others across the state saying here is what we think needs to be addressed over the coming legislative session.”

The legislative priorities hit more specific goals, while the North Carolina Guide to Strengthening Our Public Schools, which has set forth six main goals of having prepared graduates, assessment, instructional delivery, digital learning, human capital and funding for public education, are more general goals the groups developed, Bledsoe explained.

The guide was developed two years, and while it’s been revisited each year, he said few changes have been made. “They need to know the superintendents across the state are united in strengthening our public schools, and we need to take a hard look at the data of legislative actions that have diminished education,” he said. “They want to talk about we got more money last year, but we’ve got more kids so it doesn’t balance.

“We know we work hand in hand with our legislators, and they have a tough job. North Carolina communities have always valued our education, and we fell the legislators need to understand school funds are not a pot to take away from,” Bledsoe said. “This is not a negative thing. It is how a united front works. We want legislators to know we are requesting four ourselves, but we are requesting for our staff and students and communities.”

The first legislative priority highlights the school performance grading and seeks the state officials’ support in refining the A-F system used to grade schools. The new system uses a formula of 80 percent achievement and 20 percent growth (how much students have grown academically) and then gives the school a letter grade. But superintendents are concerned, because schools which have met or exceeded growth in a year are still being given “failing” letter grades.

The priority asks the legislators to remove school meeting growth from the definition of a low-performing school; make the 15-point school performance grading scale permanent after the third year of numbers have been released; revise the formula so student growth carries more weight in the final grade of the school; remove penalties for administrators serving low-performing schools; provide low-performing schools charter-like flexibility to better customize learning for students; and allow the state board of education the ability to adjust the grading system as standards and tests are changed in the future.

The second priority addresses pay for school system employees, recognizing a teacher shortage in North Carolina could be lessened by increased base pay for all teachers and also encouraging a pay increase for all school-based administrators since North Carolina ranks 50th in the nation in principal pay, according to statistics presented in the priorities’ background information.

In the information for the third priority, ensuring adequate resources, the supporting information explains, “From 2008-09 to 2015-16, North Carolina’s average daily membership (ADM), or student population, increased from 1,476,566 to 1,523,643. However, the state dollars allocated per student dropped from $5,896 to $5,634. Though data for the current school year is unavailable, the continual decrease in ADM dollars ranked North Carolina 46th in the nation in per-pupil funding for 2014-15.

“In short, public schools are being expected to educate more students with a lower investment per child.”

The priority asks the General Assembly to restore funding for public schools to the 2008 level, return to a predictable budget-funding model and provide recurring state funding for the areas in which personnel losses have taken place.

The fourth priority focuses on accountability and fairness highlighting issues with allow taxpayer funding to support students who choose to attend nontraditional schools. The public school leaders are asking the state legislators to ensure all schools, whether traditional or nontraditional such as a charter school, and receive state funding are held accountable under the same measures for student success. It also asks that the state require state-funded private and charter schools to provide transportation, meals and exceptional children’s services and limit them from preventing attendance by students who don’t meet certain academic requirements.

Also, this priority seeks to eliminate the Achievement School District which has been proposed to take over the five lowest performing schools in the state and giving their operations to a private operator. The final recommendation in the fourth priority is for legislators to vote against changes which have been proposed requiring local school systems to share their funds with charter schools for programs those schools don’t offer.

The final priority highlights regulatory reform and has two focuses — teacher licensure and school district auxiliary services.

State school leaders are asking for the General Assembly to allow teachers who have licenses from other states to be able to teach in North Carolina without having to take the NC test, as well as eliminating extra testing for those who already have graduated from the state’s teacher education program and hold a degree.

It also asks for the reinstatement of the lateral entry program, which would allow professionals to begin teaching in a classroom while working to gain licensure at the same time.

For the auxiliary services, it addresses the recommendations to restore the cycle of school bus replacements to 200,000 miles or 20 years, to align facility licensure requirements for prekindergarten to those standards used for kindergarten students, and two allow employees who hold plumbing and HVAC licenses to use them within and outside the school district, which is not permissible now.

“I’m proud of my colleagues from across the state who came together to develop these and are speaking from the same page,” Bledsoe said.

Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.

By Wendy Byerly Wood

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