Twenty heads are better than one, so the saying goes, right?
No? Well, it worked for the members of the WCPSS Board of Education and the senators and representatives from Wake County as they get ready for the short legislative session that opens today.
The two groups recently reviewed their policy agendas for the upcoming session and beyond. Everyone who attended appeared to agree that this work session opened two-way lines of communication between Dillard Drive and Jones Street.
Led by State Rep. Rosa Gill, whose district includes most of downtown Raleigh and the Walnut Creek area, the legislators and their aides presented three major pieces of legislation that will be considered in addition to the adjustment to the state budget. School Board members also presented their goals and explained how the district would be affected by changes to current laws.
The two most significant pieces of legislation relating to schools this term will be the Achievement School District bill sponsored by Charlotte Rep. Rob Bryan and the education bill sponsored by Apex Rep. Paul Stam. Bryan’s bill will not have an immediate effect on any WCPSS Schools. Stam’s bill includes some components which are shared with WCPSS goals.
Achievement School District
Rep. Bryan’s bill is designed to start with a pilot program collecting up to five under-performing schools from across the state into a single school district with its own superintendent.
Although WCPSS doesn’t have a school low enough to qualify, it is already working on its own model with a non-geographic school region known as the Elementary Support Model. This region is led by its own dedicated Area Superintendent, Dr. James Overman. The goal is to shore up 12 elementary schools which have the greatest need for students to grow to reach grade-level proficiency. Recently, two of these schools – Barwell Road and Walnut Creek – were approved by the state Board of Education to adopt a charter school model starting next school year. They would still be run by WCPSS, however.
This is a bill to watch even though WCPSS won’t be directly affected this school year. If it passes, it is likely to grow into a new tool for the state to make changes to public schools at the local level.
Rep. Stam’s Education Bill
Apex Rep. Paul Stam circulated an education bill he intends to file this session that have five key parts.
- Limit superintendent severance pay to one year. If passed, this would not affect any existing contracts, like Superintendent James Merrill’s whose contract includes two years of severance pay.
- Differentiated teacher pay would allow school principals some flexibility to pay teachers wages at rates different than one another based on particular criteria to be determined by the school district. Included in this was a provision to shield individual teacher salaries from the public records which are available to anyone upon request. Feedback received so far suggests that shielding individual salaries is not necessary.
- Addressing the teacher pipeline, the bill would also allow districts to hire individuals who hold master’s degrees or doctorates in certain subject areas to become teachers in that subject area. The early feedback received on this issues suggests that there is a desire to have some kind of initial licensure for these new hires. Local schools districts would retain the ability to set hiring standards, but the state Department of Public Instruction would continue to be in charge of licensing.
- The bill would also expedite the licensing of spouses for deployed military personnel.
- In addition to teacher pay raises which may be included in the state budget supplemental bill, this bill would include a pay raise for principals and assistant principals who haven’t had a raise in their pay scale in several years. At least one study using statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs NC’s principal compensation at 50th. (Scroll to bottom for rankings).
Number 3 above would seem to address one issue Dr. Merrill has advocated in recent months: flexibility in hiring teachers to address the shrinking applicant pool in recent years.
School Board Legislative Requests
The WCPSS Board of Education also shared issues that topped its legislative priorities.
School Calendar: Board Member Dr. Jim Martin told legislators the Board of Education is having a hard time setting the future school calendars because the current law, revised in 2011, is too limiting in school start and end dates. The 2106-17 calendar, Martin said, would only have 184 possible schools days. This means there’s room for only 4 teacher work days. The calendar also has no room for any inclement weather make up days.
School Board Districts: Board Member Kevin Hill presented the logistical issues that were created with the new school board districts, which will take effect with the election November. The new districts appear to have been drawn in such a way that will make it harder for all school board members to meet with constituents. As one example, Board Chairman Tom Benton noted that 12 out of 28 schools in his new district are straddling district lines.
ESSA Testing Flexibility: Benton told the legislators that mandated student testing may not be as necessary as it once was thanks to the new Every Student Succeeds Act – a bi-partisan federal law which replaced No Child Left Behind. ESSA grants more power to states to decide how frequently it will test students. Most notably, tests like SAT, ACT, and AP Exams may qualify as the testing requirement for high school students. Stay tuned to In Context for more reporting on ESSA.