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News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)
GREENSBORO — A proposed new athletic fee would generate an estimated $400,000 a year and allow Guilford County Schools to spare sports programs, Superintendent Sharon Contreras says.
Contreras is recommending that the school system charge students $45 a year to play unlimited middle or high school sports. Students would be exempt if they qualify for free or reduced price lunches, typically an indication of families experiencing poverty.
Because school officials are looking at cuts to teaching staff and academics, they have to look at athletics, too, Contreras said.
"This is one way to make sure that we don't cut our very successful and robust sports program," she said Wednesday during a work session of the Guilford County Board of Education.
She is telling principals that they shouldn't turn away any students who want to play sports if they really can't pay, even students who technically don't get a waiver.
Contreras also gave the school board more details about a few other budget proposals, including the closure of High School Ahead Academy.
Angie Henry, the school system's chief financial officer, said after the meeting that it costs about $1.2 million a year to run the 100-student school. The plan is to use that money to pay for a new program that would offer online resources to help up to 500 students in grades 6-12 catch up after falling behind or to accelerate in their courses, Contreras said at the meeting.
Chairman Alan Duncan got consensus from his fellow school board members Wednesday to set up a meeting at High School Ahead to talk with parents and others who would be affected by the closure. They haven't set a date but plan to hold that meeting before voting in May on the budget request they will send to Guilford County commissioners.
Contreras also wants to reorganize the central office to save $500,000. Henry said the changes would likely involve shifting some responsibilities but not cutting positions. School officials say the changes, despite costing less, will allow the central office to provide increased support for English language learners, career and technical education, and school safety.
Many board member questions and comments at the meeting related to a somewhat-more-complex proposal that would increase the number of positions for assistant principals and counselors. The proposed changes would rely on shifting existing funding and types of positions, and so would not contribute to a budget gap, Henry said. However, if school officials get bad funding news from the state or county commissioners, that could mean a weakened version of the changes, with money then going to other things.
Contreras said she wants to have more counselors and assistant principals serving students and to adjust how those positions are parceled out to schools. So she's doing a couple things: First, she's proposing changing the allocation formulas that determine whether a school gets a certain staff position or how many it gets. Typically, counselors and assistant principals have been assigned based solely on how many students a school has. Now, Contreras wants to also factor in the number of students dealing with poverty and English language learners. The number of students with disabilities would also count for assigning counselors.
In the more distant future, it's possible a small number of schools might lose an assistant principal position under the new formula, but for the current budget year they plan to "hold harmless" those schools. That would give schools more time to understand the changes, Henry said.
The changes are expected to add assistant principals next year at 16 elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools. Counselors would be added at eight elementary schools, two middle schools and eight high schools.
In general, school board members had questions and suggestions rather than criticisms. But Vice Chairwoman Darlene Garrett shared a concern about an aspect of the proposal that would eliminate the flexibility schools have to "trade" different types of positions they have been allocated. One example she brought up is a school wanting to trade to pay for half of a full-time athletic director's salary.
"Schools have asked can they trade a guidance counselor for an athletic director, I think the answer is absolutely not," Contreras replied. "As long as we have students who are not graduating, dropping out, who need counseling services, how do we say, 'You can take a position that was allocated for a counselor and turn that over to the athletic department,' when a counselor would serve far more students?"
Garrett said not allowing that flexibility would be handcuffing principals. And she said she had heard principals had been told not to talk to school board members, which she said she didn't appreciate.
"I don't know who told them that," Contreras said.
She said she would love all the schools who want a full-time athletic director to have one; it's just not her priority. If the school board wants her to scrap plans for more counselors and elementary school assistant principals in favor of athetic directors, it can do so, she said. But it's not her recommendation.
The next school board meeting, set for 6 p.m. April 27, is expected to include a public hearing for people to share their thoughts about the proposed budget.
Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.
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