BY DEBBIE PAGE

The Mooresville Graded School District Board of Education wrapped up its 2023-24 budget year and passed an interim budget for 2024-2025 in two special meetings.

Board members approved two goals for themselves for the upcoming fiscal year: to work to ensure alignment between operations, policy, and procedure; and to work to create a clarity around roles and responsibilities with all stakeholders for the board, superintendent, district staff, and principals.

BUDGET WRAPUP

After being awarded funding for updates to athletic facilities and equipment through a state athletic grant, the administration identified two priorities for this funding: resurfacing the Mooresville Middle School track and tennis courts.

The board gave formal approval to move forward with the project to resurface the MMS track for a cost of $198,320 and the MMS tennis courts for a cost of $280,470. The total cost of the projects will be $478,790, excluding taxes.

The project costs have been secured through a formal competitive bid process following state procurement guidelines. State athletic grant funds will cover 100 percent of the associated costs.

The board also approved budget amendments presented by Director of Finance Angie Davis to finish out the budget year. MGSD received $2 million in state funding in late June and additional allotments and federal allocations that had to be added to the budget.

An additional $10 million in county capital outlay also completed the Selma Burke Middle School project.

Davis said a small amount of fund balance was used to complete the 2023-2024 budget obligations, including earmarks for the school nutrition department and for the before and after school programs.

In local funds, local current expense fund had to rely on some fund balance because of the district’s technology refresh this year, but Davis praised the technology team for doing a great job in reselling old devices to help cover refresh costs. “We’re doing very well” in that fund with the help of grants, she said.

After cleaning up the 2023-2024 budget with these amendments, the board went on to approve an interim 2024-2025 budget resolution to cover normal expenses such as salaries and operations until the N.C. General Assembly passes a budget and gives school districts their allocations for the year.

The interim budget will continue spending at previous year levels.

GREENWAY SCRAPPED

The board also voted to accept Superintendent Jason Gardner’s recommendation to waive the greenway requirement adjoining Selma Burke Middle School after security concerns arose. The board and Town of Mooresville elected officials and staff discussed the safety issue at a joint meeting in April.

School board member Rakeem Brawley said the board’s vote shows that its top priority is school and student safety.

After the town approved a 72 townhome project next to Selma Burke Middle School, the town changed its ordinance to allow the school system to waive the requirement to connect to the greenway if they chose to.

A school safety audit noted that adding the greenway next to the new middle school would require a 12-foot minimum fence with cameras along the greenway section next to the school, which would be a significant expense. Gardner said that the town will hold the greenway funds required of the townhome developer for possible future greenway addition at the time the pedestrian system gets closer to the area.

Board member Kerry Pennell expressed her thankfulness to the town board and staff for their accommodations. Board Chair Greg Whitfield also praised the two entities for working well together through good communication and positive relationships.

LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES

Board Member Debbie Marsh, who serves on the legislative committee of the North Carolina School Board Association, asked board members to begin discussion of its legislative priorities for the next two years. The committee’s final recommendations will be given to NCSBA’s members at its November conference.

Pennell suggested the agenda include curbing the school voucher program, which is pulling money from public schools. Brawley suggested increasing educators’ compensation.

Marsh brought up the need for local calendar flexibility rather than a state-mandated start and end dates and for the state to give the same accountability and flexibility to both charter and traditional public schools.

Currently, charter schools have less accountability for student learning and more flexibility in operation and building rules. “The whole purpose of charter schools was to be a lab to experiment, and nothing to my knowledge has been shared with public schools,” said Marsh.

“If the flexibility given to charter schools is part of their success, why not grant that to traditional public schools as well?” she added.

Marsh cited a June Ed NC article (https://www.ednc.org/brief-opportunity-scholarships-and-the-schools-that-receive-them/) that said the N.C. Senate recently voted to give a total of $632 million for taxpayer-funded private school vouchers to families of all income levels this coming school year, along with an additional $248 million for the coming school year to the Opportunity Scholarship Fund, on top of the $384.5 million that was already appropriated for the 2024-25 school year.

In total, nearly $1 billion would be appropriated to the Opportunity Scholarship Program in 2024-2025, giving taxpayer-funded private school vouchers to every family that applied, regardless of their income level. Over half of families receiving these taxpayer dollars to attend private schools make over $115,400, including 18 percent who make over $259,000 per year.

Director of Communications Tanae McLean pointed out that the state is spending more on education but less on traditional public schools.

Gardner said “we need to bring it back to the state’s responsibility to provide a sound basic education for all students.”

The superintendent also addressed the lack of a pipeline to produce more teachers to address the teacher shortage and the need to further efforts in recruiting and retaining existing talent.

Gardner said giving school systems greater financial flexibility would allow them to use funds outside the identified PRC codes in patchwork areas, like allowing teachers to be paid for teaching a fourth block at the high school level, which now comes out of local funds.

Marsh also suggested allowing state funds to be used to offer bonuses for hard-to-recruit teaching areas. Whitfield noted that previous teacher benefits have also been chipped away, such as master’s pay and keeping health insurance after retirement.

Brawley asked where this increased state money for education is going to and how effectively the dollars were being used.

Gardner said as the voucher program is being expanded, the state should be increasing accountability for these dollars. 

“They can, in my opinion, portray that they are a high-achieving school when they are not, so if they are going to receive state funding, there should be some state accountability as we are responsible for.”

Marsh also pushed income restrictions on those receiving vouchers and brought up separation of church and state concerns since an estimated 90 percent of voucher funds go to religious-affiliated private schools.

McLean pointed out that the public does not even know who is getting the money, with some going to entities that have not even have established a school.

Whitfield asked citizens to reach out to board members to express their legislative wish lists as well to help reflect their constituents’ desires.

2024-2025 MEETING DATES APPROVED

The board also approved the meeting dates and locations for next year, which includes moving most school board meetings back to Mooresville Town Hall, as they were prior to the COVID lockdown, to free up utilization of the MHS Performing Arts Center. Gardner thanked the town for rearranging some things to accommodate the MGSD board’s schedule.

The board’s next meeting is on Tuesday, August 13, at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.

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