The Fort Mill school board last week voted to eliminate its annual $3,000 bonus for district teachers who apply or achieve National Board Teacher Certification. The reason: Less money for school operations because of the state's new Property Tax Relief law.
While board members voted unanimously to kill the bonus for board-certified teachers, they were reluctant to do so.
"This is not intended to be a negative statement about national board certification," Schools Superintendent Keith Callicutt said. "We are extremely proud of our national board- certified teachers. But we have made a commitment to classroom size, and the situation we are in is going to get worse."
District officials say this might be just the start of efforts to reduce expenses. The district anticipates a roughly $1.7 million shortfall in operating money in the upcoming budget. The shortfall can be directly attributed to a reduction in state funding resulting from the new tax relief law.
Last year, state lawmakers eliminated most local real property taxes assessed for school operations. To help make up the difference, the state sales tax was increased by a penny, with proceeds designated for school operating expenses.
But the law allocates much of the sales tax money based on the state's growth rate, rather than district growth. As a result, fast-growing school districts such as Fort Mill's suffer.
Families have flocked to the Fort Mill area in part because of its excellent school system. Now, with the attraction of lower school taxes, North Carolina residents are crossing the state line to live in Fort Mill.
In other words, because it is successful, the district suffers at the hands of the state revenue allotment system.
The other problem is that school districts now are forced to rely on a single source of funding. Instead of the relative stability of local property taxes, schools must depend on sales tax revenues that can vary widely from year to year. With the current downturn in the economy, sales tax revenues have gone south, and schools will bear the burden.
We have argued that the National Board Teacher Certification program helps raise the overall quality of teaching in districts where teachers pursue certification. It is a rigorous program, requiring teachers to produce four portfolios and undergo six assessments. The process takes from one to three years. But once teachers have gone through it, they usually emerge with new skills and teaching methods that they, in turn, can share with fellow teachers.
A number of districts have questioned how much bonus money is appropriate for districts to award in addition to the $7,500 per year from the state. That is a legitimate discussion to have, but districts shouldn't be forced to cut funding for board certified teachers simply because the state does not provide adequate money to operate schools.
Unfortunately, it looks like there will be more cutting in the days ahead.