No school merger in Catawba County

Catawba County's school systems are safe from a consolidation — at least for the 2011-12 budget year.

The Senate's proposed budget will fund the state's 115 school systems, which includes counties with more than one school district.

Sen. Austin Allran said the proposal to fund one school system per county was removed from the Senate's plan last week with bipartisan support. However, Allran said the state will have to take a $13 million cut in another area of its budget.

"This year, we are safe," Allran said. "It comes up every year. It's not unanimous, even back home, that the systems should be merged into one. It does cost the state $13 million, so the Senate had to come up with $13 million somewhere else."

Newton-Conover City Schools Superintendent Dr. Barry Redmond said the removal of the plan to fund only one school system per county was a relief for NCCS, especially during an already tight budget year ahead.

"That's real good news," Redmond said. "I believe in the importance of keeping the three school systems intact. We remain committed to utilizing public funds as efficiently and carefully as possible."

Redmond said there are "better ways" to look at reductions in a school system besides cutting funding down to one school system in a county.

Allran continues to stand firm that a consolidation among school systems should be decided on a local level, "not in Raleigh." He explained that if Catawba County, and part of Iredell County, which he represents, were to consolidate the area school systems, fighting to keep funding all school systems would become "less of an issue" for him.

"It would be less of an issue to me, of course, but as a principle, I think smaller school districts are better than larger ones," Allran said. "Another principle I believe in is the folks back home should be making these decisions rather than Raleigh."

Other Senate budget news
— Allran said the Senate's proposed budget does not cut classroom teachers and teacher assistants, and he said the Senate wants to add 1,100 teachers across the state for first through third grades.

— The Senate proposes reducing teacher training days by five and adding five days to the student instructional days, which makes the new school year 185 days, if approved.

Allran said in the "industrialized world," the U.S. has the shortest school year. Adding more days to the school year starts to pave the way toward "school reform," Allran said.

Redmond said adding days to a school year sends a "strong message."

"More instructional time definitely makes good sense," Redmond said.

"Five more days is a strong message that we value instruction and are interested in getting ahead."

On the other hand, Allran said many N.C. teachers said training days were "unnecessary."

"We heard a lot of complaints from teachers about (training days) because they said (the training days) aren't necessary, uses up their time and are not productive," Allran said.

— The Senate's proposed plan also includes tax cuts for businesses that create jobs; extension of unemployment benefits; and no new taxes, to name a few. The Senate plans to take its proposed budget back to the N.C. House of Representatives this week.