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School systems temporarily held harmless for declining enrollment

At a time when many of North Carolina’s public school systems are seeing declining enrollment as a result of COVID-19 uncertainties, provision in recent state legislation will ensure that Beaufort County Schools won’t feel that impact in this year’s per-student allocations from the state. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed the Coronavirus Relief 3.0 Act into law earlier this month.

“I’m very excited and appreciative that we will be held harmless (for declining enrollment),” said BCS superintendent Matthew Cheeseman. “I think our state legislators really listened to superintendents, boards of education, and our communities in terms of what our needs are. What it will help us do is maintain some of the resources that are specifically needed to support students with face-to-face and remote instruction.”

Locally, Cheeseman says the school system has seen a drop in enrollment of close to 5% from this September of 2019, down from roughly 6,350 to 5,989 students as of this week. The decline in enrollment follows years of a steady downward trend at BCS, though this year’s decline is well above previous years.

Essentially, Cheeseman says the ‘hold harmless’ provision means the school system will not have to make difficult choices in the short-term regarding services and personnel due to the impacts of COVID-19.

“At the same time, we need to be really thoughtful about how we utilize our funding to make sure that we continue to try and anticipate the unanticipated,” Cheeseman said.

In the North Carolina General Assembly, both N.C. Rep. Keith Kidwell and N.C. Senator Erica Smith voted in favor of the Coronavirus Relief 3.0 Act. From a legislative point of view, Kidwell says he and his colleagues recognize the challenges the state’s public school systems are facing due to COVID-19.

“The big problem that we have is that school systems are held to standards of attendance and education, and I think everybody realizes, nationwide, that they’re not going to meet those achievement levels without having one-on-one instruction,” Kidwell said. “They’re clearly not going to meet the attendance levels, so we’ve sacrificed our children at this point in time, so what we can’t do is hold the school systems and teachers responsible for something they had no control over.”

Attempts to reach Smith for comment were unsuccessful as of press time.