Wake County Schools

Strategic planning comes amid uncertainty for Wake schools

Posted August 6, 2014 10:36 p.m. EDT
Updated August 6, 2014 11:23 p.m. EDT

— As the Wake County Public School System solicited public input on Wednesday for its five-year strategic plan, the effort comes amid financial uncertainty from lawmakers and the community giving the district an overall average grade.

About 700 people gathered inside N.C. State University’s Jane S. McKimmon Center for the district’s latest effort in asking the community what it should focus on for the next five years. The meeting comes after the district released results from a survey where over 9,500 people shared their thoughts on the state’s largest school district.

One of the biggest concerns, according to results released Tuesday, is teacher pay.

“The majority of stakeholder cohorts (principals, teachers, community groups, school board, and teachers) could give examples of the outbound churn of teachers leaving for other school systems or private schools due to low compensation in Wake County,” the report said. “Moreover, the current pay does nothing to encourage the most talented students to pursue a teaching degree.”

More than 600 teachers left the system between July 2013 and April, in part due to pay, according to the district.

The issue was among the top three priorities for those at Wednesday’s forum:

  • Recruiting, supporting and compensating good teachers.
  • Providing a rigorous education.
  • Graduating students on time and ready for their next step in life.

Deciding how much to increase teacher pay was a sticking point for legislators, so much so that it delayed the passing of an updated state budget, which Gov. Pat McCrory said he will sign this week.

The budget leaves Wake schools with a $12.6 million funding gap. About $11.1 million of that is salary and benefits the system will pay to increase local supplements, which are calculated as a percentage of state pay.

In addition, the budget changes how school districts receive state funding. Districts receive funds based on enrollment, or average daily membership. These payments, initially based on projected growth for the upcoming school year, will become retrospective – meaning districts will be reimbursed after the start of the school year. Until then, districts would cover the cost of additional students.

The challenging financial outlook comes as those surveyed thought the district was average in meeting their expectations:

  • Business leaders, community groups, former students currently in college and non-district parents gave it a “C”.
  • Central office employees gave it a “C+”.
  • Current parents and students, as well as former students who went into the workforce after high school, gave it a “B”.
  • Current alternative school students gave the district an “A”.

Principals and teachers were not asked to give the district a letter grade.

For business leaders, they don’t have much faith in public education, according to the report.

“Some business leaders feared that with the lack of resources, public education was moving in the wrong direction, simply moving children with limited skills through the system,” the report said. “However, others in the same cohort voiced their belief that if community organizations were to get more involved in the school system, they could influence decision makers to direct more funding to the school system.”

Other concerns highlighted in the report include the district’s technological progress, personalizing how students learn, support for guidance counselors, aligning learning with real world needs and parental and community involvement.

Survey results, along with answers from Wednesday’s forum, will help school leaders create the district’s strategic plan, which is expected to be presented in December.