Opinion Article: Education, Education, Education
By Board of Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman
Having the best schools, quality teachers, and the resources every child needs is so important, not only for the children in our community, but for the future of our community.
It has been a long-time priority of mine and I am thrilled that we are going to be able to increase teacher pay, provide better incentives, and fund our schools so they can be the best they can be through the county’s Fiscal Year 2021-2022 budget. It’s for our kids and our county’s future.
As a parent, I don’t think I truly appreciated the value of our teachers until I had to attempt to teach my son during the pandemic. Their ability to instruct, coach, and equip our kids with the knowledge and skills they need is remarkable. I don’t know how they do all of it, but I’m grateful. And we all should be.
That’s why I have pushed to raise teacher pay supplements to the top in the state – because we need the best teachers in our schools to engage, support and teach our kids.
We always hear politicians talk about how they value education, but what substantive changes do we usually see from this? With this budget and these efforts, my fellow Commissioners and I are actually taking action and insisting that our county be top in the state in teacher pay and that our schools have the funding they need to provide the best education possible. We’re not just talking about it, we are taking the steps to ensure education in our community is prioritized.
Our FY 21-22 budget will have an increased investment in schools – about an 8.3% increase over the current year adopted funding – for a total of $121.5 million across all funding categories (current expense, grants, capital and debt service). That’s more than a third of the county’s general fund budget.
It’s a lot of money, but it’s important, and I believe this increase in funding will make significant improvements in our schools, and attract and retain the best and most diverse teachers to our area. This funding will raise our locally funded teacher supplements from an average of $4,183 a year to an average of $9,000 a year. That will put New Hanover County at the very top in the state for teacher supplements and should be a big incentive to draw more qualified and high achieving teachers into our district. It’s proven that better pay affects performance and attracts more candidates to the profession.
We are also adding four new Teaching Fellow scholarships, teacher incentives for hard‐to‐staff schools to receive National Board Certification, a reading training program for teachers working in schools with the greatest disparity in student performance, and a Workforce Housing Gap Rental Assistance Program to alleviate the housing cost burden for 12 teachers in hard-to-staff schools.
For students, we are going to fund three more Pre-K classrooms – for a total of six county-funded Pre-K classes that help set students up for success – academically, socially, and emotionally – as they enter Kindergarten. And we are going to increase the amount we provide per student district-wide (in public and charter schools) by $527 – from $2,907 per student this year to $3,434.
In addition to these funding allocations, the county will continue supporting our public schools with 43 School Resource Officers and 40 school nurses, and 16 school‐based therapists who provide support for middle and elementary school students in the budget.
Through funding from the American Rescue Plan, we will also be providing 19 additional mental health counselors, another school health nurse supervisor, school health team leads and extending broadband service to 8,000 households with children who qualify for Medicaid or Food and Nutrition benefits so students and families can have reliable high-speed internet.
So if you hear anyone say we aren’t doing enough to fund and support our schools, please share these facts with them!
As a Commissioner, I also want to ensure that we are funding the right things to move our schools and our students forward. So I also want to see our school board and Superintendent Dr. Foust develop a strategic plan with clear measures, priorities and goals. I want to know that our schools have a tangible plan for moving forward and that the funding we provide is helping achieve better education outcomes for our students.
We must see progress, and I believe this increased investment is going to help us get there. I appreciate the school board and my fellow Commissioners for their collaboration – because we all have the same goal and want the best education for our students.
The county’s FY 21-22 budget is also going to accomplish a variety of other initiatives that will serve and better our community, like new walking trails and a nature park, affordable housing and infrastructure initiatives, emergency response resources, and much more which I won’t get into here. But I hope you will take a look at the budget and come to our June 7 Board of Commissioners meeting to share thoughts with us during the public hearing.
I’ll leave you with this – the proposed tax rate in this budget is 8 cents less than our current tax rate (from 55.5 cents to 47.5 cents) – but we will be bringing in more revenue under this lower tax rate than before, because of the increased property values through our revaluation (property values reflect the market and are up around 33% on average across the county).
This new rate is slightly above revenue neutral, because we have clear priorities and sustainable investments in this budget to make our community better and ensure every resident – every child and adult – has the resources and support they need to thrive.
That’s what this budget achieves, at a tax rate lower than most other counties our size, and I’m proud of the investments we are making for residents today and for our county’s future.
Julia Olson-Boseman was born and raised in New Hanover County and currently has a son in New Hanover County public school. She is chair of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners and has served as a commissioner since December 2018. She also served as a commissioner from 2000 through 2004, before being elected to the North Carolina Senate where she served three terms.