Cost of Growth: Changes in education

Superintendent Bo Caldwell says Henderson County Public Schools have seen a rapid growth in their school population over the years. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

Western North Carolina has seen an increase in population since 2000. While not every school district has grown along with it, budgets certainly have.

For example, in 2004, Buncombe County Schools had a budget of $167 million. In 2017, the budget was $227 million. You can look up school budget data here.

Buncombe and Henderson counties have different stories of growth.

"We've seen, at best, sort of a leveling out," Buncombe County Schools Superintendent Dr. Tony Baldwin said.

"There was a huge growth in Henderson County Public Schools. I think we were truly exploding," Henderson County Superintendent Bo Caldwell said.

Buncombe County Public Schools are a few classrooms smaller than the start of the century. In 2001, the district had 24,065 students. Today, it has 23,980 students.

"I believe it's a lot about affordable housing," Dr. Baldwin said.

In 2001, Henderson County Public Schools had 11,894 students. In 2010, Henderson County had 13,310 students. Today, it has 13,509 students.

"We're still growing. Every year there's growth, but it's certainly not as rapid as it was from 2000-2010.

Elsewhere in the region: In 2001 Asheville City Schools had 4,026 students. Now it has 4,320. Madison County Public Schools has seen its enrollment decrease. In 2005, the district had 2,597 students. Now, it has 2,305 students.

What has gone up is more is spending. Looking at just local funding, in 2004 Buncombe County spent $1,700 per student. In 2017, Buncombe County spent $2,700 per student.

"Those funds are able to allow us to make sure that we're doing our best to provide the skills and the areas that we believe that our graduates are going to need to have to be successful," Baldwin said.

He said the increased local funds have allowed them to keep arts teachers, and grow STEM education and world language programs. He says 87 percent of their budget goes to salaries and benefits. Baldwin said parents expect more from them.

"They demand to make sure we're educating our kids with a quality education beginning in kindergarten," he said.

Caldwell said they're trying to train young students for jobs that probably don't exist yet. He said the biggest changes he has seen in education have to do with technology.

"A parent once called me kind of upset. Her issue was those classrooms aren't like what they used to be. I said, 'Well, yes, ma'am. Thank you,' because they can't be what they used to be. We have to continue to work to provide an education that's going to prepare these students," Caldwell said.

Henderson County spends $1,900 of local funds per students. In 2004 the school district spent $1,600 of local funds on each student.

"Some of that price increase, of course, I think is some of the added technology that we're adding in our facilities. As well as just, like I said, everything's gone up over time," Caldwell said.

Baldwin believes the increased spending is being put to good use, and giving kids a better education.

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