Cross burning evokes memories of past racial violence

Four teenagers in Haywood County were recently charged with burning a cross in the yard of a biracial classmate.

The act is considered a hate crime, a severe form of intimidation that is classified as a felony. All four students charged with the crime attend Tuscola High School.

Teachers get sympathy from readers, peers

You never know what subject in a column will incite readers and friends to open up and express their feelings. Last week’s piece about the madness that the end-of-year testing brings to public schools certainly led to an onslaught of opinions.

I was at the gym when a regular whose name I don’t know approached me and said he liked my column.

End of school year teaches some bad lessons

Each spring as the school year winds down, I can’t decide whether to laugh or cry. As preparations for end-of-year, high-stakes testing get cranked up in our public schools, everything changes.

One day it’s a potentially life-changing test that has even good students stressed out. They are told to get plenty of sleep, eat good and don’t be nervous. Right. Next day it’s a marathon of absolute nothingness, a very “un-educational” experience which for one of my kids involved a three-movie school day. Three movies in one day! Next perhaps is field day or some kind of outdoors day.

My daughter at high school, on the other hand, only goes on test days these last few weeks. I tried to check her out for a dentist appointment the other day and they couldn’t use the intercom to call her. Too disruptive during testing, the logic goes. “Text her, if she’s not testing,” I’m told by front-office personnel.

So it goes without saying that the 180-day school year, to put it kindly, is a joke. And the last 15 days are the funniest of all.

And what kind of encore performance could get cooked up to top the multitude of wasted days and hours at the end of each and every school year? Lucky for us, the powers that be have given us a two-fer: we get to start school in early August  to make sure we get enough instructional days in; and two, the Republican-led legislature has decided that public school students should attend school for 185 days, so local school leaders next year get to figure out how to add another five days into a calendar that is already impossible.

My kids go to Haywood County Schools, but it’s the same throughout North Carolina and probably the entire country. Since standardized testing became the wonder drug of accountability for politicians — the measuring stick by which we differentiate good schools from bad schools, and in some cases the tool we use to determine bonuses for educators — we’ve been headed toward the kind of madness that now is the normal for every school year’s end.

How mad, you ask? Well, I’ve had teachers tell me that border-line second-graders are being failed because principals and teachers fear their third-grade end-of-grade test scores more than they value their second-grade results and effort. I remember one of my daughters getting taught the “tricks” to help bolster standardized test scores. You know, if you can narrow to two answers, then make a guess. Or, if you have “b” or “d” as choices, pick “d” because studies show that it is more likely to be the right answer based on an average of answers over the last several years (or some such nonsense). Really, this is how to teach elementary students?

The opposite is true for teachers. While students go from total waste to ever-important testing, teachers are trying to test, re-test, find proctors, finish grades, conference with parents, finish paperwork, and wind up a school year in which work days have been cut and planning time shortened.

The great irony in this end-of-year waste of time for students is how it has become the opposite at the beginning of each school year. We keep moving school start dates back toward July in order to get enough days into the school year. I’m all for tough standards to make sure graduating students are prepared for the road ahead, including making sure there is enough instructional time.

Somehow, though, putting students through a couple of wasted weeks at the end of each school year doesn’t jive with the move to start school earlier and earlier. I can’t reconcile the two extremes. I’m looking for answers, and would love to hear from parents, teachers or administrators on this subject.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

SCC seeks county dollars for commons area, restaurant

The idea of a restaurant and a commons area where students could meet and eat sounds like a good one to Angie Stanley, a student in Southwestern Community College’s medical respiratory program.

“That really would be nice,” the Sylva resident said. “A lot of people have to leave campus to eat lunch.”

When Stanley packs her lunch, which she often does when there won’t be time to leave campus between classes, she’s forced to eat in a classroom somewhere. That’s because there’s few gathering places for students to congregate.

SCC leaders want to change that by building a central quad, typical of most university campuses, but less so for community colleges. A quad is in the works as part of the new $8 million Burrell Building under construction. It will house a new bookstore plus additional academic and administrative space. It is scheduled to open in August.

But to fully flush out the concept of the quad, SCC hopes to add a commons area to the plan that could serve as a gathering point.

Campus leaders have asked Jackson County commissioners for $580,000 to build a commons area, along with an on-campus restaurant, said SCC President Donald Tomas.

“This would be an extension of the Burrell building, right in the center of campus,” Tomas said.

That sounded good to electrical engineering major Kenny Pleskach.

“I bring my own lunch probably 95 percent of the time, but yeah it would be a cool thing to have a place to eat your lunch,” Pleskatch said, adding that he currently hangs out in one of several gazebos sprinkled about campus.

Money for a quad, but not a commons area and restaurant, is included in the $8 million cost of the Burrell building.

Janet Burnette, a vice president at the college, said the college would lease out the restaurant space to a restaurant entity such as Subway or something similar.

Student questionnaires and surveys have consistently shown food service — or lack thereof — is their top concern on campus, said Delos Monteith, SCC’s institutional research and planning officer.

“We did 10 focus groups and asked students if they could change one thing about SCC what would that be. Overwhelmingly they said food service,” Monteith said.

A commons area combined with the quad would also give the university a central gathering space it currently lacks, Tomas said.

Burnette said if the school does not get the money requested from commissioners it would do “a very scaled back version” of the plan. Drawings and schematics for a full version are being compiled now.

The $580,000 from commissioners would be paired with $580,000 from the state to build the enclosed commons area and restaurant, as well as a few other building items around campus, Tomas said.

County Commission Chairman Jack Debnam said that he wished commissioners had known about the capital building needs a bit earlier in the county budget process.

Tomas said that hadn’t occurred because the school had not known until recently that it would have access to state dollars for such a project.

“This spring the state gave us some flexibility on this one-time deal,” Tomas said. “The timing seems right if the monies are there — this project would enhance the campus tremendously.”

The total $1.16 million project would include other construction items as well.

• Renovate another building located in the quad area, the Founders Building, which is the oldest building on campus.

• Add 10 hair stations to the cosmetology department located in the Founders Building.

“It needs some upgrading,” Tomas said of the early 1960s-era building.

SCC received $304,500 in capital funds this year from Jackson County and is asking for a total of $677,000 for the next fiscal year — with the $580,000 earmarked for the special projects.

Haywood lends helping hand to schools, but not enough to make up the gap

Haywood County commissioners have increased funding to the county school system this year for the first time in four years, but with cuts in state and federal funding, the boost from the county won’t be enough to help plug the schools’ budget hole.

The county is chipping in an extra $350,000 toward in the operating budget for Haywood County’s elementary, middle and high schools.

But, the school system will see an almost $400,000 cut in state money, the loss of $1.7 million in emergency federal funding extended to schools during the recession, and a reduction in lottery money for building maintenance and construction, said Assistant Superintendent Bill Nolte.

“We are starting a couple million in the hole,” Nolte said, adding that schools are grateful for the money from the county.

Haywood County schools will receive $14.3 million next year for operating expenses and $256,000 for capital projects. The county slashed the capital budget for school maintenance four years ago by two-thirds, and has yet to restore it. Schools have a troubling backlog of repairs as a result.

The school system presented a nearly $900,000 wish list for capital projects, listing several critical items including a new school bus and roof repairs at its meeting with commissioners more than a week ago.

Instead, commissioners decided to direct their increase in school funding to operational costs for the schools.

“You will see a little bump,” said County Manager Marty Stamey. “I wish we could do more at this time.”

The increase is designed to get the county back on track with a funding formula that had fallen by the wayside during the recession.

“We were able to go by the formula until the economy went over the cliff,” said Board Chairman Mark Swanger.

About eight years ago, the county brokered a deal with the school system designed to curb what had become an annual fight over how much money the county would pony up.

“It seemed like there was always a fight,” said Commissioner Kevin Ensley, adding that talks are more agreeable since both parties approved the formula.

Under the deal, the county would use a formula based on student population to determine school funding each year. The formula also built in a 1 percent increase year to year. But, it has been frozen for the past four years.

As the economic prospects have started looking a bit sunnier, officials were grateful for the help from commissioners.

“We would be pleased to be back on the formula,” Nolte said. “The economy is still not recovered so if they have the revenue to put us back on the formula negotiated several years ago, we would view that as very positive and be every thankful for that.”

Unlike the county school system, Haywood Community College did not ask commissioners to increase its operating budget this year but requested that the board would allocate any additional funding to capital projects, such as road repairs and building renovations.

HCC presented the board with more than $2.6 million worth of capital projects at a recent budget meeting on its ultimate wish list, but only asked for $500,000.

“They commented that they knew that that could not be funded, but they wanted to make use aware of what those needs are,” Swanger said.

In the proposed budget, the county will allocate $176,000 to HCC’s capital projects — an increase of $56,000.

Besides the schools, other department’s budgets remained relatively on par with this year’s numbers.

(Reporter Becky Johnson contributed to this story.)

Cherokee Schools to craft new long-range strategic plan

Cherokee Schools has launched a year-long process to develop a new strategic plan, a move prompted by issues raised in a recent accreditation review of the school system.

As a sovereign entity, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians operates its own school system and does not have to comply with the state standards as other public schools do. But, Cherokee Schools are subject to certain oversights through the Bureau of Indian Education.

“We have to meet a lot of different standards,” said Lori Blankenship, chair of the Cherokee school board. And “It is in our best interest to be accredited.”

The schools must go through an accreditation process every few years.

The new strategic plan is in its infancy and will take the better part of a year to piece together, said school officials at a recent tribal council meeting. The first step is a public meeting to gain input from students, parents, teachers and other stakeholders about what they would like the plan to include.

“That may give us even more precise direction (for the schools) or it may change the direction depending,” said Mark Rogers, acting superintendent for Cherokee Central Schools. “It won’t just be me going through striking; it will be a group effort.”

The recent review found three areas where the schools needed to make changes to be full accredited. They have until 2014 to make the adjustments.

The first of three required actions is more staff development opportunities, which can help the schools attract and retain quality teachers. School officials plan to join the National School Boards Association and the National Indian School Board Association.

“They provide lots of training and structure that really assists in policy making,” Rogers said.

Another, more holistic required action is the continuity of curriculum from grade-to-grade. The schools are currently looking at a top-down approach to connecting the curriculum and ensuring that the students in one grade are adequately prepared for the next.

By looking at what a high school senior should learn and know before they graduate, administrators can figure out what the juniors should study to be ready for their senior year, what sophomores should study to be ready for their junior year, and so on. The continuity will not only exist among grades but also among subjects.

“That will start the conversation with the eighth grade. What do they need to do to develop that ninth grade student?” Rogers said.

The final required action includes tracking more quantitative data to show marked improvement — something that the schools currently do, Rogers said.

“We just did not put it in our strategic plan,” he said.

Students at Cherokee Central Schools recently finished their end of year testing, and the results are looking good, Rogers said. “Our tests scores are way up. Preliminary result look very positive,” he said.

The test scores were not being released as of Monday because students had not been notified of their scores.

The review marked the first time it was done for the elementary, middle and high schools collectively, rather than as separate entities. The three schools are all part of the same campus now, after the construction of a massive, new $109-million school for K-12 students in 2009.

“This is the first time they’ve come together,” said Terri Henry, a tribal council representative from Painttown.

The new strategic plan will include elements of the current plan, which was approved in 2009. One element that will likely be removed from the plan will be additional course offerings, which would mean hiring more teachers, supplies and other related items.

“We hope to maintain what we have,” Rogers said. “We are in a bad economy, and the money is not flowing, and our main goal to maintain what we have right now.”

There are currently about 1,150 students enrolled in the Cherokee Central Schools.


Voice your opinion

Cherokee Central Schools will hold a public meeting at 6 p.m., May 24, at the school to hear input from students, parents and other stakeholders regarding a strategic plan for the school system.

Strapped by budget cuts, Haywood schools suffer from building upkeep backlog

When the maintenance director for Haywood County Schools received news that a transformer at Pisgah High School stopped working last Thursday, it seemed apropos given the grim portrait of the schools’ budget he and other education officials would paint for county commissioners later that day.

The school system has made a plea to county commissioners to more than triple what it’s getting now for maintenance, repairs and building upkeep. While a sizeable increase, the school system has been barely scraping by in recent years. It’s capital budget was slashed by two-thirds when the recession hit four years ago.

This year, the school system says it needs its former funding levels restored — plus some — to help dig itself out of the maintenance backlog. It needs $839,000, including such critical things as a new bus, roof replacements and emergency sidewalk repairs.

“Most of what we need there is for emergency things that seem to always come up,” said Tracy Hargrove, maintenance director for Haywood County schools.

One of those emergency needs is the $20,000 transformer that failed at Pisgah High School — a cost that the school system had hoped to delay until the next fiscal year.

“We have several projects that are relatively critical that we have been kicking down the road a little bit,” Hargrove said.

Not to mention, the county’s 22 buses are wearing down as the numbers on the odometer quickly tick higher and higher. Bus drivers are sometimes forced to swap vehicles if classes are scheduled to take a field trip as some of the buses fair better than others.

And, next year, schools are projected to receive 53 percent less funding for capital projects than they did in 2008, Hargrove said.

The school system is also dealing with a depleting fund balance, the amount of money it has left at the end of the year that essentially makes up its savings account.

The school system ended the 2010-2011 fiscal year with a balance of $4.2 million. But, funding cuts have since drained that reserve. Officials estimated that the schools will only have anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million leftover at the end of the next fiscal year.

“It will only last a year or so and then we’re in trouble,” said Assistant Superintendent Bill Nolte.

Like other departments in the county, schools have been forced to prioritize renovations and improvements and make cuts where they can.

During a meeting with county commissioners last week, Haywood County Schools asked for a total of $14.33 million from the county for the next fiscal year — a more than $1.7 million increase compared to this year. That includes the increase to its building maintenance and repair fund, plus funding for classroom operations, such as teacher salaries.

“I feel like we were very deliberate (when laying out the budget),” said Anne Garrett, superintendent of Haywood County Schools.


Squeezed at both ends

The schools are looking to the county to help make up funding shortfalls at the state and federal level. The state has engaged in a odd funding formula, where it allocates money to schools and then asks for some of it back during the year, called a “reversion.” Reversions are intended for austere budget emergencies, but have become a standard annual practice by the state.

“That is why it is disingenuous,” Mark Swanger, chairman of the board of commissioners, said of the state’s contribution to education.

Education officials have been taking the bulls by the horns when they can because they don’t know what funding they will receive the following year or how much they will have to revert back to the state.

“It’s like Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football,” said Commissioner Kevin Ensley.

Part of the state’s allocation to schools comes from lottery money. The money is supposed to supplement the schools’ budgets, but many officials have stated that it only supplants funds that the schools should be receiving anyway.

“We haven’t gotten any additional funding since the lottery started,” Nolte said.

Meanwhile, commercials are advertising that lottery money is helping pay for teachers’ salaries. A fact that school officials say is simply not true.

In addition to the loss in federal and state funds, county governments will have to pay for an additional five school days to comply with an unfunded state mandate that increase the number of days from 180 to 185.

“Five days, we have to fund out of our local budget,” Garrett said.

Commissioners did not indicate where they stand on the schools’ request, but will be revisiting the issue soon as the budget for the coming fiscal year is finalized.

Tuscola High School counters rumors that advanced courses have been curtailed

Despite rumors that cuts at Tuscola High School in Waynesville could reduce the number of advanced courses, academically gifted students will have just as many courses to chose from next school year.

Tuscola will lose five teaching positions, which is likely what fueled the buzz among students that fewer honors courses would be offered. Parents mounted a campaign imploring the school not to cut the number of upper level classes.

School administrators say this was never the case, however.

“I think there has been some misinformation, and it just spread like wildfire,” said Stephanie Goodwin, an assistant principal at Tuscola.

To combat the rumors, the school even scheduled a mass pre-recorded phone call to parents. Robocalls are usually used by the school system to share information on everything from snow days to school-wide testing. This one assured parents there would be no cuts to advanced course offerings next year.

Kim Turpin was among the parents who voiced concerns after hearing the school was reassessing both the number and variety of upper level courses it offered. Her daughter is eyeing Stanford but to get in she would need plenty of Advanced Placement courses — essentially university-level courses that count toward the students’ college course credits.

“If you have smart kids, why wouldn’t you feed your smart kids?” asked Turpin. “They need to provide courses so they can go out in the world and be competitive.

Turpin said it is also important for the overall reputation of the school system.

“Anyone you are wanting to attract as a professional in your community, they are going to be looking at your school system,” Turpin said.

Tuscola is offering Advanced Placement, or AP courses, in four areas this year. Next school year, two new subjects will be added — so in essence there are more AP courses being offered next year, both in the variety and sheer number.

Every January, Tuscola High School surveys students to see what AP courses they are interested in for the coming school year. The line-up is built accordingly.

“Student interest drives our schedule for those upper classes,” Goodwin said. “The only way we reduce the number is if we don’t have student interest.”

Unfortunately, if there aren’t enough students interested in a particular AP course to comprise a full class, the school can’t offer it.

“There has been a reduction of funds the last two or three years in the public schools and you have to get the most bang for your buck,” said Danny Miller, the high school curriculum supervisor for Haywood County Schools. “If you had only five or six kids interested in a course, whether it is AP or say business law, it is hard to take a teacher’s block of time and dedicate it to that.”

That is the case with some AP courses, such as AP Physics and AP World History, which only have a handful of students express interest each year, so the course is offered online only.

Haywood County has roughly 2,000 students at its two high schools. While Tuscola High School historically has been larger than Pisgah, reallocation in recent years has led to a reduction in the number of students at Tuscola and an increase at Pisgah. That in turn led to Tuscola needing fewer teachers.

“Our class sizes will be larger next year,” said Tuscola Principal Dale McDonald.

The teachers taken away from Tuscola have not been added to Pisgah, however.

Despite the loss of teachers in the schools, students won’t be left without enough classes to fill their school day.

“Even with the massive cuts, we’ve had I can’t imagine that high-performing students won’t have plenty of honors or AP course offerings,” Bill Nolte, the assistant superintendant of Haywood County Schools, said. “The capacity to offer the courses has not changed.”

The students still have to be taught, and so a teacher standing in front of a particular class can just as easily teach an honors curriculum for an allotted class, according to Nolte.

While the number and variety of AP classes are based on student interest, the school also vets students to ensure they are eligible for the courses.

“You have to recognize this is a college-level class while you are in high school,” Goodwin said.

Even for honors courses, students have to qualify. The application process is based on a combination of test scores, grades in the current academic year and teacher evaluations. For honors English courses, students have to take a tailor-made test to get in. Based on those results, there will be only two honors English courses for sophomores at Tuscola next year compared to three this year.

While parents have expressed concerns that the testing has weeded out the number of students eligible for honors English, Nolte said it is important to make sure students end up in the appropriate level course at the beginning of the school year.

“Otherwise they will want out of the course midway through, and there won’t be a regular English course to jump to,” Nolte said.

Dr. Kristen Hammet, a veterinarian in Waynesville, has been an advocate of offering advanced courses in high school.

“We do need to offer the kids courses; they need to be able to get in top level schools,” said Hammet. “If these kids can’t compete, they can’t get into the Dukes and the Princetons and Davidsons.”

But, it’s more than that, Hammet said. She sees academically gifted students as a special-needs group. They crave a challenge that, if unmet, can leave them floudering and can lead to them checking out intellectually.

“These kids need these courses,” Hammet said. “It has been shown that if the gifted and intellectually and academically gifted kids are not offered courses that meet their challenge, they are at greater risk of dropping out, or become more depressed and more suicidal.”

Macon schools seek more funding

Facing a dire state budget outlook and a loss of one-time federal stimulus dollars, Macon County School’s leaders came hat in hand this week asking county commissioners for money.

The school system wants a budget increase of more $1.15 million from the county — both to offset cuts at the state and federal level and to make up for a maintenance backlog brought on by funding cuts in previous years.

The school system is seeking $6.9 million for fiscal year 2012-2013 — up from $6.7 million this fiscal year — plus $1.2 million in capital outlay funding to take care of building maintenance needs. The schools received $250,000 in capital outlay this year.

Macon County commissioners are now working through their own budget process and made no promises one way or another during the work session. County Chairman Kevin Corbin did emphasize that hard times made for hard budget choices, but the former longtime school board chairman also expressed the desire to financially support the schools.

“We’re committed to education,” Corbin said.

Macon County does not plan on instituting a property tax increase this year.

Macon County Schools Superintendent Dan Brigman forecast an expected $1.4 million cut in state funding. That amount could be offset, however, in the unlikely event that a Gov. Beverly Perdue proposed three-quarter cent sales tax increase passes the General Assembly, Brigman said. Revenue from the tax increase would be dedicated to schools. Macon County also has completely used up $1 million in federal stimulus money in a two-year allocation that was dedicated to school salaries.

“That money was a temporary patch,” Brigman said.

Macon County Schools since 2008 has eliminated through attrition 22.5 jobs, including a principal’s position, 6.5 teachers and 15 teacher assistants.

“The classrooms have been impacted,” Brigman told commissioners.

The biggest discussion point involved money for technology. Macon County Schools has fallen so far behind on replacing computers it’s now on a nine-year rotation schedule, which in the fast-moving world of technology renders the equipment virtually obsolete. Brigman requested $489,000 this upcoming budget year.

This, schools technology leader Tim Burrell said, would put Macon County Schools on a five-year rotation for equipment. It would then require $389,000 annually to keep the schools on that rotation.

School leaders said it would actually take more, $1.2 million, to completely catchup Macon Schools regarding current equipment replacement.

“So that would get you to the starting line,” Commissioner Bobby Kuppers said of the $1.2 million, which is not contained in the actual request for fiscal year 2012-2013.

Kuppers is a teacher at Franklin High School.

One looming issue for Macon County Schools is that starting in 2013 students will be state-required to take and pass online assessments. Burrell said there are not enough computers available at this point for that to take place.

Commissioners asked for a breakdown on exactly what equipment is needed to bring the current system up to snuff plus prepare the schools for conducting online assessments of students.

Lottery money hardly a win for schools

Keeping a roof over the head of Haywood County’s nearly 8,000 students is getting harder every year as the school system grapples with funding cuts at both the state and county level.

With 16 schools, it’s wise to stay on a steady rotation of replacing a roof every one to two years. Go four years without replacing one, and it is catch up time.

“Then where is the money going to come from? Instead of $1 million project you are looking at a $3 to $4 million project,” said Chuck Francis, chairman of the Haywood County school board. “Now we are at the point where somebody is going to have to step up our schools are going to start going down.”

That’s exactly the message school leaders will be taking to county commissioners this year as they lobby for their maintenance budget to be restored. The county’s annual $600,000 maintenance and repair budget for school buildings was cut to $200,000 four years ago.

“We have to buy light bulbs and fix broken pipes. It’s fixing door knobs and changing locks and keys, and replacing windows that get hit with a rock,” Assistant Superintendent Bill Nolte said. “It is just on and on and on.”

SEE ALSO: Where do schools rank?

Commissioners don’t doubt the schools need the money.

Falling behind on upkeep will eventually catch up with the county, agreed County Commissioner Mike Sorrells, a former school board member.

“The longer you prolong this the more behind they are going to get,” Sorrells said. “If you don’t do your preventive maintenance you are going to end up with a huge backlog. So it is like the saying goes ‘pay me now or pay me later.’”

But in this case, the county may have to take the “pay me later” approach, depending on how the coming year’s budget shapes up. (see related article.)

Another routine expense the school system once kept on a regular schedule is replacing activity buses used for field trips, band trips, sports teams and the like. Those activity buses have to come from local dollars — and the money to replace them hasn’t been there.

“We had a schedule plan to increase that, and that has been frozen for three years,” Francis said.


Assault on all fronts

The school system has also lost a pot of state money for building maintenance, repairs and small capital projects. The state once earmarked a share of corporate income tax for school systems, divvied up based on school population around the state.

When the recession hit, the state started keeping that money for itself — resulting in a loss of $270,000 a year.

That puts the school system out a total of $670,000 in building needs.

Meanwhile, however, the Haywood school system has gotten a boost from lottery money. The school got more than $1.4 million last year in lottery money to use for maintenance and capital projects.

When the state started a lottery six years ago, lawmakers promised the money would be a boon for education. Lottery money would not supplant current funding but would be stacked on top of the funding schools already got, lawmakers promised.

Ultimately, it appears lottery money has supplanted other sources of school funding after all, even though it wasn’t supposed to.


Operational money

In addition to school building construction and maintenance money, the county also gives the schools money for operations, nearly $14 million a year. It hires extra teachers that the state won’t pay for, school secretaries, janitors, supplies, and myriad other operational costs not covered by base state funding.

While the county hasn’t cut the schools’ operational budget, it hasn’t grown any either.

About eight years ago the county brokered a deal with the school system designed to curb what had become an annual fight over how much money the county would pony up. Under the deal, the county would use a formula based on student population to determine school funding each year. The formula also built in a 1 percent increase year to year. But it has been frozen for the past 4 years.

Commissioner Mark Swanger, who at the time had just gone from school board chairman to county commissioner, came up with the idea of a formula.

“The formula worked great,” Sorrells said. “Every year, the school system was able to say we are expecting this amount of money.”

Sorrells saw real progress during those years of better funding.

“So it has been disheartening to have to cut back and cut back,” Sorrells said.

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