Local News

Bill could mean merger for some N.C. school districts

Posted March 9, 2009 6:18 p.m. EDT
Updated March 10, 2009 8:01 a.m. EDT

School Funding (Generic)

— A Cumberland County lawmaker has proposed a bill in the state Senate that, if it were to become law, would fund only one school district per county.

That would mean city school districts in 11 counties, including Orange, Halifax and Sampson, would likely have to merge with county school systems to continue receiving funding.

Sen. Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, says that merging the districts would save an estimated $11 million to $12 million each year.

Rand's bill exempts certain school districts, such as Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools, that cover two counties.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools would be one of the systems affected should the proposal become law. Board of Education Chairwoman Lisa Stuckey says the board would not be in favor of merging the system with Orange County Schools.

In 2003, the school system studied the impact of merging, but leaders found it could be expensive for the state to pay for a merged district because the schools would have to be funded at the highest-per-pupil-level of the two, and the city schools have a separate tax that boosts their spending per student.

It also found that it could affect the quality of education students receive.

"Having two smaller districts leads to more local control, to more of an ability for parents and to students to form relationships with their school community," Stuckey said.

Rand calls multiple districts in a county a "luxury" in the current economic situation.

"Eleven million dollars – that's $1.50 for everybody in North Carolina," Rand said. "Do you think your $1.50 should be spent on that? I don't think mine should."

According to Rand's office, there would be a savings of $11,393,030, with nearly half of that coming from less central office administration.

Lee Moavenzadeh, who has four children in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district, says she will wait to hear more about the issue before forming an opinion. She says she hopes the focus stays on what is happening in classrooms.

"When politics and accounting drive educational policy instead of actual learning, then I think we've got it backwards," she said.

Stuckey says she is meeting with other city districts to talk about the proposal. If the bill passes, the board of education would likely talk to Orange County commissioners about the value in funding two school districts.

That would require local money, she says.

"This year, with the budget crisis, it makes that a particularly difficult conversation," she said.

Rand's bill, meanwhile, has been sent to a committee for further study.