School staff and advocates speak out during budget hearing

BUDGET BEEF: Buncombe County Association of Educators President Shanna Peele told Buncombe County commissioners that a boost in funding is vital to the future success of local school districts. Photo by Frances O'Connor

Over 100 teachers and education supporters flooded the June 6 meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, all urging elected officials to fund local school districts at higher levels than proposed for next year’s budget.

The red-clad advocates filled the commission chambers and two overflow rooms, with about 25 speaking during the county’s budget hearing. They said the 10.3% increase for both Asheville City Schools and Buncombe County Schools in the proposed $423.6 million fiscal year 2023-24 budget was far below the level needed to meet local education’s needs.

Several speakers argued for raising property taxes to help pay for increased school budgets. The proposed budget would keep the property tax rate at 48.8 cents per $100 of taxable value for the third straight year, equating to a bill of about $1,460 for a house valued at $300,000.

“These public school workers, the people who need tax relief the most, are willing to pay more in property taxes if it means their co-workers are more comfortable in their jobs. That is such selfless behavior, and I hope the county commissioners honor that,” said Timothy Lloyd, a custodian at Asheville Middle School.

MORE MONEY: Timothy Lloyd, a custodian at Asheville Middle School, tells Buncombe County commissioners to honor the wishes of educators to raise property taxes to invest more in public education. Photo by Frances O’Connor

Buncombe County Schools requested $116 million, a 41% increase from 2022-23 funding, primarily to increase pay for teachers and staff. County commissioners are poised to allocate $90.3 million to BCS, up 10% from about $82 million, if the budget passes as is June 20. The Asheville City Schools system is slated to receive $16.8 million of its $20 million request, up from the about $15.2 million it got last fiscal year, according to the county budget.

Several teachers complained that staff losses are mounting at schools, arguing that only significantly higher pay will stop the exodus. “I just found out we are losing a librarian and school counselor today, as well as a math and science teacher,” said Joan Hoffman, a technology teacher at A.C. Reynolds High School.

Daniel Withrow, a teacher at Ira B. Jones Elementary in Asheville City Schools and president of the Asheville City Association of Educators, said more than a third of teachers at his school left last year. For better or worse, he continued, the county must pick up the state’s slack in terms of support for education.

“You know the state has failed to fund our schools adequately. You know the responsibility to fund our schools has fallen to local governments. By now you also know we lag far behind other urban districts in meeting this obligation,” he said.

Eden Wood, a fifth grader at Claxton Elementary, said students have noticed the declining morale amongst teachers and staff at school.

“If [the proposed budget] gets passed, I think the teachers are going to lose it for real. If we’re getting to this point, something definitely needs to be done to stop this,” she said. “It’s at a point where teachers aren’t staying for more than a year now. They don’t want to get too connected to their students, and they don’t want to be reluctant to leave. That is really, really hurtful to this community.”

Board Chair Brownie Newman was the only commissioner to address the education advocates at the end of the public hearing.

“I think I certainly speak for everyone on this board when I say we are very deeply concerned about where our state stands in terms of public education currently and some of the proposals that, if enacted, could further dismantle the whole around how our public schools work,” Newman said.

A final vote on the budget is scheduled for the board’s meeting Tuesday, June 20.

In other news

Commissioners decided to delay a decision about changing the time of one of their two meetings each month. The proposal would have moved the board’s meeting on the first Tuesday of each month to 10 a.m. starting in August. The meeting on the third Tuesday of the month would remain at 5 p.m.

Commissioner Al Whitesides said he would not vote for a schedule change because he was concerned the morning time slot would limit working people, particularly people of color, from being able to attend.

“If it ain’t broke, why are we fixing it?” he asked. “This makes it look like we’re going to make it difficult for people to come to meetings.”

Commissioner Parker Sloan said he supported the time change because it would open meetings up to those who work evenings, as well as parents who have to be home with their kids after school. But he added that he would only want to make the shift with unanimous consent among board members.

Commissioners will take up the subject again at the June 20 meeting after seeking more public input via email.



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