Local schools seek major support from Buncombe leaders

Asheville City Schools sign
HELP WANTED: Asheville City Schools leaders asked the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners for increases both in direct county support and the district's supplemental property tax rate. Photo by Virginia Daffron

Buncombe County government spending is set to expand at a healthy pace in the 2022-23 fiscal year — about 9.5% from the adopted 2021-22 general fund budget of $360.4 million to a projected budget of nearly $394.7 million. If the Asheville and Buncombe school systems have their way, however, the county’s support for education will grow even more quickly.

Requests outlined by Buncombe County Schools Superintendent Tony Baldwin and Asheville City Schools Superintendent Gene Freeman at a May 10 Board of Commissioners work session sought county government spending increases of up to $27.9 million, representing a nearly 32% jump from the county’s current $87.3 million contribution. ACS also asked county leaders to approve a 13% increase in the supplemental tax assessed on property within the school district, from 10.62 cents per $100 of property value to 12 cents.

Baldwin’s presentation focused on the need for salary increases to attract and retain school employees. Based on a recently completed compensation study, he said, the Buncombe system hopes to raise average wages for teachers and other certified staff by 2.5%, while bumping pay for noncertified staff such as custodians by 2.5% or to at least $15 per hour, whichever is higher.

As an example of the system’s hiring challenges, Baldwin noted that he had advertised for 105 custodial positions since the start of the school year. On average, he said, fewer than two people had applied for each vacancy. “It’d be hard to run a business like that, wouldn’t it, Commissioner [Robert] Pressley?” Baldwin asked. (Pressley owns Celebrity’s Hot Dogs in Bent Creek.)

Meanwhile, Asheville school leaders couched their request as a matter of preserving existing services. Having allocated $3.5 million of the system’s $5.66 million in financial reserves to balance the current year’s budget, said Asheville City Board of Education Chair James Carter, the schools wouldn’t be able to cover the same expenses in fiscal year 2022-23 without additional help from the county.

The ACS budget does not include any salary increases beyond those mandated by the N.C. General Assembly. That move drew criticism from the Asheville City Association of Educators, a professional group representing the system’s teachers, which has called for a living wage of at least $17.70 per hour for all employees.

Several commissioners expressed frustration at the Asheville schools’ proposal. In preparation for the May 10 meeting, the county board had asked the system to prepare a plan for reducing costs over the next three years. As presented, that plan consisted of just one slide containing general items such as “Reduce staff = $1 million” and “consolidation of facilities.”

“We’ve gone with this basic version because, frankly, as we get into the new board, we want to make sure that they have the opportunity to add to this list as well,” Carter answered, when pressed for more details by county board Chair Brownie Newman. The five-member school board, currently appointed by Asheville City Council, will expand this year to seven seats, four of which will be filled by newly elected members in November. (Two current members whose terms end in November, Shaunda Sandford and Martha Geitner, are not running for election).

“We can’t wait on the new school board; we’ve got to do things now. That’s why you were put in place,” said Commissioner Al Whitesides. “You have a fiduciary responsibility to do your job! Don’t lay down on us now, when we need you the most.”

After the ACS representatives left the meeting, Commissioner Amanda Edwards suggested that the system was reluctant to release more detailed plans due to concerns over community pushback. Previous decisions justified by the school board as cost-cutting measures, such as the closure of Asheville Primary School, have been blasted by parents and educators at school board meetings and on social media.

“Maybe as they present those [options], we can work with them to help ease the fears,” Edwards said. “Anytime one solution or idea is brought forward, the emails start coming. I think it creates a fear within the [ACS administration] and the school board to really put some of those decisions out.”

“I totally agree with that. At the same time, decisions have to be made,” responded Newman.

County Manager Avril Pinder will present her recommendations for Buncombe’s budget, including contributions to the school systems, Thursday, May 19. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Tuesday, June 7, and the document’s final adoption for the board is tentatively slated for Tuesday, June 21.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

One thought on “Local schools seek major support from Buncombe leaders

  1. Mike R.

    I have always supported schools and school funding. It is a very important function in our society.
    However, now understanding the gross inefficiency of two school systems (Buncombe County) and smaller (Asheville City) existing side-by–side, I am against any additional funds until the two systems are merged into one. This merger would eliminate duplicate administrative functions as well as duplicate political entities. Yes, of course the new Asheville Buncombe School system (ABS) would require refiguring School Board representation (districts and at-large recommended). A new combined school system would still offer neighborhood schools within Asheville but also provide for greater choice of attendance for county and city residents alike.
    The time is now to combine these two school systems.

    And while we’re at it, consider this: How much more efficient our local government would be if we combined Asheville City and Buncombe County into one County-wide entity. The time is coming folks when automatic tax increases are going to be tolerated by the citizenry….for ANY function. We better start looking for ways to make our local government a whole lot more efficient for those tax dollars.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.