Ask Anything: 10 questions with Wake school board member Eleanor Goettee
Wake school board member Eleanor Goettee answers your questions about teacher pay, year-round schools and gangs. Plus, health & fitness instructor Cameron Martz is now taking your questions.Posted — Updated
In general, I do not think teachers are paid enough. I would like to see the entire salary schedule adjusted upward so that it better compares with that of other professions. In addition, I believe it is time for salary differentiation. Many school districts around the state and nation currently offer financial incentives for hard to staff areas like math, science, special programs, and English as a Second Language. And, many school districts, including Guilford and Charlotte/Mecklenburg, are incorporating a pay for performance component in high needs schools. I support both of these initiatives and would like to see Wake County Public School System move in this direction. It is time to recognize and reward those teachers who are helping students make significant academic gain.
It matters greatly as to how the student population of a school is configured ... particularly as it relates to percentage of free and reduced lunch students. Research overwhelmingly shows that when a school has over 50 percent of students receiving F&R lunch, the academic achievement of all its students suffer. In addition, it is extremely difficult to recruit or retain high quality teachers for these schools and in too many cases, we find that highly challenged schools have less experienced staff and higher teacher turnover rates. All students prosper when there is a heterogeneous student population as it relates to socioeconomics. It is important to note that the Wake County Board of Education members overwhelmingly support the current practice of ensuring healthy schools for all. This commitment includes implementation of a system of student assignment that is based on a combination of assignment, magnet programs, and calendar options.
The WCPSS conducts external and internal reviews on an annual basis. Each fall, at the conclusion of the fiscal year, the external audit is performed on our financial data and the results are reported to the Board of Education through the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. This audit includes an extensive review of revenues and expenditures in all funding sources. The report, any findings, and management response are presented to the Independent Audit Committee prior to delivery to the Board of Education.
The Independent Audit Committee was established more than two years ago to provide oversight in the external auditing process. While required in publicly traded companies, very few governmental agencies have implemented this additional layer of financial accountability. We have gone the extra mile to ensure transparency to the public.
Over the past 10 years, additional reviews and audits have been performed on WCPSS. MGT conducted a performance audit to determine the efficiency of the school system. The Wake County Commissioners and Wake County Board of Education requested a review/audit of operations and facilities by a Citizen Advisory Committee. The Board of Education initiated a financial fraud audit by Summerford Accountancy. Each audit was presented to the public to further demonstrate our transparency in financial management.
Good question – actually, there are virtually no year round high schools in the U.S. We in the WCPSS studied/explored the possibility of a year round high school but determined that its cost would be prohibitively high. We would need to offer a full complement of courses on each track thus the huge expense of hiring more teachers. In addition, participation in extracurricular activities in high school ,i.e; athletics, band, etc., would require students to be involved during track outs.
I would like to be able to offer the option of a year round high school for families who really need or like that option. Unfortunately that is not to be the case – at least in the foreseeable future.
I’m sorry that oftentimes it is perceived that the Board of Education and the public are in conflict, however I truly believe that is not the case. We meet regularly with the elected officials of the 12 municipalities in Wake County, and hold monthly meetings with the County Commissioners to discuss issues and solutions to the problems associated with growth throughout the county.
This year, we are releasing our first multi-year assignment plan to provide more predictability for families in the assignment of their children. In addition to numerous public hearings every year, each of us on the Board has advisory committees and works with neighborhood and civic groups from around the county to ensure that many voices are being heard as we wrestle with some very complex and difficult decisions.
One of the things our Board and school staff does to help improve efficiency is award contracts to design consultants for reuse of existing school prototypes. This is a regular practice for WCPSS. In fact, all of the new schools in the last building program, Plan 2004, are prototype designs and 15 of the 17 new schools in our current building program, CIP 2006, are prototypes.
The big potential for savings is time. Generally, reusing designs saves between three and six months in planning and design time because decisions of what to build are made quicker, with less review, revisions and delays. The shorter time means we are able to get projects out to bid sooner and prices are less likely to increase due to inflation. In turn, many of our contractors are familiar with some of our prototypes which has a positive impact on school construction.
Another advantage to using a prototype is that the design is generic enough to accommodate the typical educational programs, but can be adapted to the actual school site. Since no two locations are exactly alike, sometimes modifications are necessary. Even with modifications, reusing a prototype can save between $300,000 and $500,000.
First let me state that I made absolutely no “promises” in any campaign literature. Secondly, what I did say, among other things, is that I support:
3) Long range building program
My goals regarding student assignment during the campaign and now haven’t changed and I believe that the Board of Education is doing a better job each year in addressing them. We are in the process of developing a three year student assignment plan that will incorporate reasonable feeder patterns and will be tied to a multi-year building plan.
Historically, the fees from student parking have been used to offset the costs of increased security. This year, however, the Board of Education was forced to cut more than $36 million from our operating budget and to add an additional source of revenue, we voted to increase student parking fees by $50 per parking pass. I want to point out that this is the first increase in these fees since the 2000-2001 school year. Last year, we collected $767,592 in high school parking fees and we spent more than $720,000 on security for these high schools during the same period.
There are actually three questions here so let me take them separately. First, we requested additional funding this year to expand our training and awareness programs associated with gang prevention for our school based employees. Gangs are a complex problem affecting everyone in the community including the schools. If our staff is better trained to identify and respond to gang activity as they see it, we create safer schools for everyone. Knowing what to look for and how to act appropriately are critical elements of our strategy.
Your second question is about funding. The largest factors driving our funding requests in recent years have been inflation, legislated mandates, and growth. Even though growth has slowed, we will still be increasing our enrollment by between 4,000 and 5,000 students annually.
It would be helpful to know which external reviews are referenced here. The recent state auditor’s report did not indicate WCPSS was under-delivering for our AG students. The Curriculum Management Audit did not identify particular weaknesses in the AG program other than a need for additional funding to increase services. As a matter of fact, the state caps AG funding at 4 percent when 16 percent of our students qualify for AG services. There is only $9 million allocated nationally for gifted education.
The type and amount of service an Academically Gifted elementary or middle school student receives depends on the base school he/she attends. Some schools may be allocated a part-time AG teacher, but convert other funds to pay for a full-time position. Some school programs consist of AG students clustered within a regular classroom, while other schools deliver services within homogeneous pull-out programs.
We on the board believe it is important to address the needs of our AG students and we work very hard to provide additional resources for them. There was a business case in this year’s proposed budget that added funding for increased AG services but unfortunately it was cut, along with several other items, when the county appropriation did not meet our request for funds.
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