School board advances pay increases, will remove bus masks

ASHEBORO — Students may be able to ride buses without masks if federal rules change, and teachers will likely receive additional pay in May following votes at this week’s county board of education meeting. The Randolph County school board also adopted a 2023-2024 school calendar Monday night. 

Before the school board’s business session, chairman Gary Cook made a lengthy statement regarding the pandemic and the government’s response to it. “I feel like we were held hostage,” said Cook. “The governor held all the power.”

Cook also called out federal and state leaders for the impacts of pandemic policies on students and the education system. 

“Our kids were thrown so far behind, it will take years for some of them to make up. As this school year started, I thought we were moving in the right direction,” said Cook. But, the continued limitations on schools by state and federal rules have caused lasting damage to students and the education system, according to Cook. 

“Here’s my beef. This is what they’ve really accomplished,” said Cook. “They’ve driven great teachers into other fields. They’ve raised mental stress on staff and parents, but the worst thing you’ve done is you hurt so many kids emotionally. You’ve damaged them mentally; you’ve set them back so far many of them will never catch up. You hurt our future.”

As the meeting turned to action items, the board addressed a short but broad agenda. 

The board adopted a policy that aligns the system’s bus masking policy with federal rules. The board’s action means that if the federal government removed its mask mandate for school buses, the county’s policy would automatically change to remove the mask mandate locally at the time of the federal change. The change was made after the board discussed their options if the federal government changed mask rules before the next school board meeting. The adopted language of the system’s mask policy now reads that “cloth face coverings will be required on school system transportation only to the extent required by federal law.”

Teachers to receive supplemental pay from state

The state budget passed last year by the General Assembly included a $100 million fund for supplemental pay for public school teachers. Most counties in North Carolina provide a supplement to teachers in addition to state pay. In Randolph County, the supplement was $3,330 in 2021, according to the state budget. Under the Teacher Assistance Program, Randolph County teachers will receive an additional $934 on an annual basis. State assistance varies by county and is based on criteria that includes real property values, poverty estimates and the current supplement in the county. 

Five counties — Buncombe, Durham, Guilford, Mecklenburg and Wake — will not receive state supplements. Each of those counties have existing local supplements exceeding $7,000 each year. Caswell, Cherokee, Graham and Swain counties have no county supplement and each will receive new supplements exceeding $2,000 per year. Graham County will receive the maximum supplement of $4,250. 

In Randolph County, the school board adopted a plan to distribute the additional pay to teachers as part of their May paychecks if the funds are provided to the school system by the state before May 1 each year. Certified teachers and instructional support personnel are eligible for the additional pay in Randolph County. 

System approves 2023-24 school calendar

The 2023-2024 recommended school calendar includes 180 student days; 14 teacher workdays; 11 holidays and 10 annual leave days. The first day for students will be Monday, August 28, 2023, and the last day for students will be Tuesday, June 11, 2024. The approved calendar includes an inclement weather make-up plan where the first five days missed are absorbed, with subsequent days made up as scheduled.

Highlights of the calendar include a three-day holiday over Thanksgiving in fall 2023, a nearly two-week Christmas break and a 12-day spring break from March 29 through April 8, 2024. 

Students honored

Prior to the board’s business session, they recognized star students for the month. Each month, the system honors students who are respectful, responsible and doing the right thing. This month, those students are: Horryus Butcher (3rd Grade, Coleridge Elementary School); Raymond Byars (9th Grade, Uwharrie Ridge Six-Twelve); Kevin Chareo Avila (8th Grade, Southeastern Randolph Middle School); Megan Cheek (8th Grade, Southwestern Randolph Middle School); Hayden Clemmons (1st Grade, Seagrove Elementary School); Shaeli Cuevas (2nd Grade, The Virtual Academy at Randolph); Sydney Hall (9th Grade, Southwestern Randolph High School); Malachi Letterlough (12th Grade, Eastern Randolph High School); Kristian Nance (2nd Grade, Southmont Elementary School); Karissa Van Vliet (4th Grade, Farmer Elementary School); Adlee Yates (2nd Grade, Tabernacle Elementary School).

By Randolph Record