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‘Please fund our schools:’ UCPS board member, parent advocating for more funding after County leaders didn’t approve full budget request

UCPS requested $123 million from the county for its operating budget.
UCPS requested more than $123 million dollars for its operating budget - and County leaders approved all but $7.5 million.
Published: Jun. 23, 2022 at 6:53 PM EDT
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MONROE, N.C. (WBTV) - UPDATE -------

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UPDATE: the Union County BOCC Chairman Dennis Rape responded in a letter saying the BOCC will not meet with the BOE next week, as UCPS BOE Chair Melissa Merrell requested on Thursday.

Education leaders in Union County are advocating for money in its budget for the next school year.

The Union County Board of Education met Tuesday night to discuss the budget for the 2022-2023 school year.

The budget was adopted by the BOE in May and was then presented to the Board of County Commissioners. UCPS requested $123 million from the county for its operating budget.

On June 13, the BOCC met to vote on the county manager’s recommendation, it passed 3-2. County leaders approved all but 7.5 million dollars of the budget request.

Jodi McConkey is a former teacher and her daughter is a rising senior in UCPS. She was devastated learning the county’s schools wouldn’t receive the funding.

“My heart breaks thinking that my kid won’t be able to get the benefits that she could’ve had, had the funding been there,” McConkey said.

UCPS has 53 schools with more than 40,000 students and over 5,000 employees.

“Honestly, I felt like we had been punched in the stomach,” Board Chair Melissa Merell stated.

Merrell says the 7.5 million dollar shortfall would have given much-needed pay increases to teacher assistants, assistant principals, and facility staff.

This included a compensation market adjustment for facilities and teacher assistants, a supplemented increase for assistant principals, an increase for steps for certified staff with 15-25 years of experience on the state salary schedule of 2,431,500, and National Board Teacher Credentials - Support 10 new applicants and 60 renewals.

Board documents show that the last supplement increase for assistant principals was in 2014, the last market pay increase for teacher assistants was in 2020, and the last market increase for facilities staff was in 2019.

“We will not be able to provide those increases for those employees,” Merrell said.

That’s not all - the lack of funding means UCPS can’t add 30 extra teachers for classrooms in grades 4-12; which is another need with teacher shortages happening nationwide.

“If we lose teachers that means larger class sizes and if we lose assistants that cuts down on what can happen in the classroom,” McConkey said.

McConkey is worried the lack of funding could affect elective opportunities for students, sports, and staff positions.

“It’s endless, where are they going to pull from? It’s a devastating thought, especially with such a large school system,” McConkey said.

The operating budget wasn’t the only budget that was underfunded. The BOE requested 23.3 million dollars for its capital budget which would support repairs, band equipment, and uniforms for Cuthbertson High, cyber security equipment for disaster relief, laptop leases, and more.

The BOCC approved all but 4.1 million dollars of the capital budget request.

Merrell and her board are fighting for more money, without it, those cuts mean less for students and teachers in the long run.

“I think our children and our employees are worth fighting for,” she said.

“We’re very very hopeful that we can go back to the Board of County Commissioners and the County staff and ask them ‘let’s please have a joint meeting,’ ‘would you reconsider coming back to the table and let’s, please talk about this,” she said. m

She says this is another effort to discuss their funding needs and get more money for other budget items such as higher pay for teacher assistants, assistant principals, and veteran teachers.

“We’re very very hopeful that we can go back to the Board of County Commissioners and the County staff and ask them ‘let’s please have a joint meeting,’ ‘would you reconsider coming back to the table and let’s, please talk about this,” she said.

WBTV reached out to the BOCC chair and vice-chair Thursday afternoon about the possibility of a joint meeting, but we have not heard back at the time of this writing.

Here’s what can be funded from the operating budget for 2022-2023

  • insurance (property/liability)
  • state legislated increase 2.5% for non-certified staff
  • state legislated increase 2.7% for certified staff (but state leaders are proposing a 5.5% which hasn’t passed yet)
  • benefit increases - projected increase of 5.5%
  • charter school enrollment projections

The BOCC approved a separate 1 million dollars to the general county government which would add more school resource officers including four deputies and one sergeant to serve in elementary schools across the district.

This 1 million dollar was moved from the UCPS budget request into the county government fund.

There are 30 elementary schools in UCPS.

A Union County Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson says adding more SRO’s is more important now than ever.

Merrell says the plan to have more SROs was in progress prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic but was sidelined after the pandemic started. She said UCPS Superintendent brought the request back to the forefront after the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 students and two teachers.

“The primary mission of the Union County Sheriff’s Office is to ensure the safety of Union County’s residents. In order to accomplish this mission, no task is more vital than ensuring the safety of our local schools. Thanks to the continued support of Union County’s Board of County Commissioners, funding has been approved for an additional four School Resource Officers and one School Resource Officer Sergeant,” Lieutenant James Maye stated.

This will bring the total to 19 SROs in the school district.

“These SROs will be put to work providing a uniformed security presence within our local elementary schools and will continue to be part of the team mentoring and protecting our local children. Sheriff Cathey would like to thank Union County’s residents for their continued support and would like for parents to rest assured that their children will be protected as they learn in a safe and secure environment,” Lieutenant Maye stated.

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