Four pre-k classes in jeopardy of being cut next fall

Published 11:11pm Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanks to limited state funding, some Beaufort County children may have to skip preschool next year.
Teresa Smith, preschool coordinator for Beaufort County Schools, presented an update to the board at Monday’s meeting that identified inequitable funding for the districts North Carolina Prekindergarten program.
NCPK, initially called “More at Four” when former Governor Jim Hunt introduced it in 1993, was formed in order to prepare low-income children for kindergarten.
Smith said the program was the result of the Leandro case, a lawsuit filed by five school districts against the state’s Board of Education claiming students in the poorer districts were being denied their constitutional right to an education because of inadequacies in facilities, technology and salaries.
The Division of Child Development Early Education has been the lead agency for NCPK since 2011, with the Beaufort Hyde Partnership for Children acting as the local funding agency.
The Beaufort Hyde Partnership for Children receives the NCPK money and selects 72 children during annual preschool screenings.
“Taxpayers fund NCPK slots at the state level,” Smith said. “Children are determined eligible by a rubric of points. Those with the most risk factors (most points) are the ones who get the slots.”
Children of active-duty military are automatically eligible for the program.
Beaufort County Schools has four prekindergarten classes for NCPK students. Chocowinity Primary School and Northeast Elementary School each have one class. Eastern Elementary School has two classes. Until slot reductions in the 2011-2012 school year, Eastern had three classes.
The school district has an additional six prekindergarten classes. These classes serve 102 Title I and Exceptional Children.
In the 2010-2011 school year, the district received $529,670 in state funds for the 72 NCPK slots, according to Steve Toler, finance officer for Beaufort County Schools.
That funding was reduced to $415,925 the following school year. In 2012-2013, the district was allotted $373,162 for the same 72 slots.
“We have lost $127,000 in funding due to the slot rates,” said Greg Singleton, executive director for federal programs.
Smith said the county has been frugal with its funding and carried over a surplus for a few years.
“The reduction of slot amounts for the last two years has depleted [that surplus],” Singleton said.
The NCPK advisory board decided that private childcare centers  – in Beaufort County’s case, Care O World – should receive more funds per child than public schools.
“This year, Care O World received $650 per child per month for their classroom teachers who had B-K licenses and $600 per child for their classroom teachers who had a four-year degree in a related field,” Smith said.
All BCS prekindergarten teachers have birth-to-kindergarten (B-K) licenses. The district receives $473 per child, amounting to $127,440 less per year than Care O World would receive if the students went there.
If BCS did not have the four NCPK classes, Singleton said Care O World would not have the space to absorb 72 students.
“As of now, there really isn’t a place in Beaufort County for 50 children to go,” he said.
Board member Terry Williams asked Singleton what reason the state gave for having a different rate to childcare versus public schools.
“A kid is still a kid,” Williams said. “We’re offering more than them and getting the short end of the stick again.”
Singleton had no answer for Williams but said he would ask. Williams suggested he also ask how many of the NCPK advisory board members owned private child care centers.
The district employs eight instructors for the NCPK classes. The combined salaries of the four lead teachers and four teaching assistants for the current school year is $316,738.
Other expenses include the maintenance and replacement of playground equipment, classroom supplies and $7,033 a year for the meals of students who do not qualify for free or reduced lunches.
Staff development for licensure requirements include CPR/First Aid training and Social Emotional Foundations for Early Learning courses. For each day the teachers are out of the classroom for these courses, the district has to pay $100 to a substitute.
The district also pays $29,000 for bus transportation, which does not include the $100 per child spent on car seats.
Singleton said Pitt County does not provide transportation for its prekindergarten students.
“If we took transportation away, it would save us a lot of money,” he told the board. “But we would not get the most neediest children … and over 80 percent of our children ride the bus.”
Singleton said the district is operating at a deficit, depleting spare funds that would not likely last another school year.
“I have never been a quitter,” Singleton said. “But, if the funding system doesn’t change, we can’t operate in a deficit situation.”
He said the district was not a business and not trying to turn a profit, but needed to break even.
“When we add al that up I believe we could probably break even if funding was increased to $93,000 to $95,000 a classroom,” Singleton said.
In a letter sent to the state board of education, Singleton and Superintendent of Schools Don Phipps asked that the funding be increased to $530 a month per child in order to keep the district from continuing to operate at a deficit.
Singleton said he was feeling optimistic after Phipps received a response from the letter. The state will be looking into the matter and asked Phipps to represent rural school districts in a conference call on the subject.

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