Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
When Representative Kevin Corbin ran for office to represent the 120th District of the House of Representatives, one of his main campaign promises was to secure additional funding from the state to operate Nantahala and Highlands Schools, geographically isolated schools in Macon County. Senator Jim Davis had tried similar measures during his tenure, but was unsuccessful in securing support in the legislature.
Corbin spent his first week in office networking with other representatives and explaining the geography of his district and how difficult it is to operate Nantahala and Highlands, as they cost three times as much, but are needed based on the terrain of the county. Consolidation isn’t possible for the two K-12 schools, which serve the communities in which they are located. Only one other K-12 school operates in the state, is located on the coast and serves the geographically isolated Ocracoke Island, which is surrounded by water. Because Ocracoke is a K-12 school on the tip of the Outerbanks and is isolated by water, the state provides additional funding for teachers. The state’s other two K-12 schools are just as isolated, but rather than by water, they are surrounded by mountainous terrain and national forest.
Highlands and Nantahala educate students from kindergarten to 12th grade and staff teachers accordingly. Class sizes fluctuate from year to year, but regardless if a class has three students or 15, the state mandates a teacher is in the classroom. The same staffing requirements apply to cafeteria staff, janitorial staff, and administration to keep the schools running.
The state funds teachers based on a strict formula, and provides a teacher salary for every 16 to 28 students enrolled in a school district, the ratio varying from grade to grade. Most of the time it would take three entire grades to meet the state requirements in these isolated schools, meaning the state would provide funding for one teacher, but it would take third, fourth, and fifth grade students to meet the 16 student requirement, and one teacher can’t teach all three grades.
Corbin was the sponsor on House Bill 23 and Senator Jim Davis sponsored Senate bill 15, which were both successful in passing and being included in the state’s final budget. Macon County will see an additional $1.4 million over the next two years to fund additional teaching positions at both Nantahala and Highlands Schools.
“The additional teaching positions provided by the Isolated Schools legislation will be very beneficial to our students across the district,” said Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin. “These positions will allow the Macon County School system to continue to provide quality educational services to the students in the isolated school districts of Nantahala and Highlands while also allowing us to shift local resources to the Franklin area schools. Sen. Davis and Rep. Corbin have worked together in order to secure these funds for the students of Macon County. The Macon County School system is extremely grateful for their efforts.”