Letter from Cumberland County Board of Education Chair

  • Dear Cumberland County Board of Commissioners:

    Over the past year, we’ve seen firsthand the importance of living and working in a community that bands together to help students succeed, even during difficult times. In Cumberland County, we have been through hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and other serious weather-related situations, and we’ve always been able to come back stronger than ever before. None of the aforementioned crises prepared us for the catastrophic impact that COVID-19 would have on our county – and the entire world. Nevertheless, true to form, and in our “Cumberland Strong” fashion, we have joined forces to get through these challenging times.

    Words are insufficient to express our deference and gratitude for the collaboration with Cumberland County, which has enabled us to work hand-in-hand and overcome the challenges presented by the global pandemic. One example of this collaboration is the tremendous partnership with Dr. Jennifer Green, our County Health Director, who has provided us with guidance and support through all of this. She has been a sterling example for everyone and has always accentuated the positives with a can-do attitude.

    Despite the challenges we have faced as a school system since the pandemic began, our premier professionals have maintained a laser-like focus on educating our young people. As we are hopefully nearing the end of this global pandemic, we have to continue this important work with a focus on academic acceleration to help meet the academic and social-emotional needs of our students. While public education had to pivot at a moment’s notice in March of 2020, and it will likely never be the same again, all is not lost. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reimagine public education as we move beyond COVID-19, using the lessons learned to help catapult education and how children learn to a whole new dimension. As Dr. Connelly noted in his budget message to the Board of Education, “while we could not control the devastating effects of COVID-19 over the past year, how we respond in its aftermath is critically important.”

    We, as the Board of Education, along with district staff are ready for “The Great Comeback.” We reaffirm our commitment to the strategies outlined in The Cumberland Commitment: Strategic Plan 2024. They are more relevant now than ever before. In addition to the hard work of our dedicated professionals, talented students and committed families, we greatly need increased resources to accomplish all of the goals outlined in our strategic plan. We are requesting $88.1 million in local funding, which represents an increase of 9.2 percent or $7.4 million.

    While we outline many needs in our financial plan for student success (budget), we have two major areas of priority: Increased funding to raise the local salary supplement (2 percent - certified staff and 1 percent - classified staff) for all of our premier professionals, including classified staff such as bus drivers, cafeteria staff, custodians, teachers’ assistants and our certified staff, such as teachers, counselors, psychologists, nurses and social workers. As you may recall, our employees have not received a local supplement salary increase nor a cost of living increase since 2014-15. Secondly, we have identified specific strategies to improve our 23 schools designated by the NC Department of Public Instruction and the State as “Low Performing Schools” which we call Performance, Accountability, Support, and Empowerment (PASE) schools in Cumberland. Significant additional funding is needed to provide targeted assistance and resources to these schools. In the pages following this letter, we have provided a listing of the specific budget business cases to support these schools and a listing of the current resources that these schools receive on top of the allotment of funds that every school receives.

    Beyond these two priority areas, we must work to provide intense support to combat learning loss and to provide academic acceleration to help all students succeed in the aftermath of the pandemic. We implore you to provide increased funding for Cumberland County Schools at the level requested. To simply maintain the current level of funding or provide a minimal funding increase is in fact a reduction in funding when you factor in inflation. Inflation for 2021 ran about 2.0%, up from 1.6% in 2020. Therefore, if our school system receives the same level of local funding as last year, it would amount to a decrease of nearly $1,600,000 than last year.

    We know that you, like our Board, are committed to the success of the 50,000-plus students in our school system and will do everything possible to fund our bold and student-focused Strategic Plan 2024, which aligns with the needs identified in this funding request. We appreciate your continued support of Cumberland County Schools.

    Alicia Chisolm
    Board Chair