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UCPS budget request increases by $4.7 million
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MONROE — Union County Public Schools’ (UCPS) budget has remained unchanged since 2018. At the Board of County Commissioners meeting on Monday (June 7), Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan and Chairwoman of the Board of Education Melissa Merrell requested a budget increase for Fiscal Year 2021-2022.

The commissioners did not vote on the request.

Per Merrell’s presentation, UCPS’ base budget is $106,046,045. Merrell said that after speaking with each UCPS department, more than $2 million in the existing budget was “redirected.”

Regardless of what the commissioners will approve of or want to amend within the budget, the school district needs a certain amount for state mandates for facility operations and insurance as well as a projected revenue loss for school nutrition and state-legislated salary increases.

Merrell said during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, schools offered students free lunches, which meant they couldn’t charge and pay themselves with the profit.

Nutrition plus facility operations and insurance costs amounted to $1,038,641.

Then, should the NC General Assembly and Governor Roy Cooper agree on a state budget, the school district would need another $2,700,100 for salaries and benefit increases — a projected 3% increase in salary for non-certified staff, a 5% increase for certified staff and a projected average of 8% for benefits increases.

Tack on a district compensation study focused on compensation market adjustments for transportation and support staff, supplement increases and increasing bus driver salaries by $1.00 per hour, and the school district has a total of $7,948,530 of required funding to be able to meet state mandates.

The last time UCPS classroom teachers, bus drivers and safety assistants saw an increase in their pay was 2017 in context of local supplement stipends. Stipends for teachers was ranked 12th in the state in 2018; however, in 2021 it was ranked 19th. If the other 115 school districts in North Carolina do not change, but UCPS adds a $1,000 stipend, it could put them in the top 10 school districts, Merrell explained.

School nurses and social workers have not had an increase in local supplements since 2012. The supplements would need to increase between $2,500 and $3,000 to be at market value.

When speaking about bus drivers, Merrell said UCPS is is short more than 50 drivers.

Initially, the school district projected the amount of money required would increase by $3.39 million; however, it increased to $4.7 million.

The proposed capital budget for FY 2021-2022 is $19,569,563. Most of the budget (over $16.3 million) would go to facilities for updates to school buildings (the district has 233 structures to maintain across the county), safety and security at schools and more. Technology services would take up more than $3 million for laptop lease payments (for teachers, administration and students in third through 12th grade), new vehicles would cost $120,000 and $50,000 is budgeted for band uniforms and equipment at Weddington High School, per Merrell’s presentation.

Continuing with the presentation, she provided the commissioners with information on per pupil expenditure.

UCPS ranks 29th in the state for local money spent on each student, which equates to $2,267 compared to the number one county, Chapel Hill-Carrboro, which receives $6,417 of local money. UCPS has just under 40,000 students and 53 schools whereas Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district has 20 schools and 12,522 students. Total per pupil spending in Union County is $8,781, while Chapel Hill-Carrboro spends $12,883.

Commissioner David Williams asked Merrell about the state government expenditure per pupil — how much money UCPS receives from state funding. The county is “dead last” in receiving state funds, Merrell said.

104 Union Academy Cardinals become alumni
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MONROE — Following a difficult semester when the school lost two faculty members, Union Academy Charter School has a reason to smile.

On Thursday (June 3) at 7 p.m., the school saw 104 seniors graduate and become alumni — 27 of whom were lifers (students who attended since Kindergarten).

They planned to host graduation at their football stadium; however, rain pushed the ceremony indoors to the new South Gym. Guest speakers were Union Academy founders, Dr. and Mrs. Tim Laniak. The school was established in 2000 and nine years later saw its first senior class graduation, according to the school’s profile.

Union Academy requires its students to complete 105 hours of service before they can graduate. The class of 2021 served more than 14,105 community service hours during all four years in high school. The class was awarded over $7.2 million in scholarships and 91% of students will attend a two- or four-year college in the fall, according to the charter school.

Union Academy is open by lottery admissions to all residents of North Carolina. As of the 2020-2021 academic year, almost 500 students in grades 9-12 attended the school. Head of School is John Marshall and the High School Principal is Jim Zorn.

Former Panthers' luxury sports car stolen and wrecked
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WEDDINGTON — Former Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis was burglarized on Tuesday. Deputies for the Union County Sheriff are looking for two suspects who broke into his garage, stole his neon McLaren 720S luxury sports car and wrecked it on Tuesday morning.

The car was found in front of a residence in the Providence neighborhood, a gated community, less than a mile from Davis’ home. Davis and his wife Kelly were at the scene of the recovered vehicle when Union County Sheriff’s deputies arrived, according to a release from the sheriff’s office.

Davis posted to Instagram (@td58) on Tuesday asking for help in identifying the suspects. He posted photos from security cameras in his garage.

“If any of you recognize either one of these idiots that decided it was a good idea to come into my home and go through all of my cars and even steal and wreck my McLaren. I’m offering a cash reward for anyone that can help identify who these guys are,” Davis posted to Instagram.

The cost of a McLaren can range from $299,000 to $327,000, according to truecar.com.

Too, he uploaded photos of damage on the driver side of the vehicle and a tire that was bent. He posted footage from the security camera showing the suspects going through other cars and items in the garage.

The Davis’ ”told deputies that a neighbor called to tell them about the wrecked vehicle. As they were leaving their home, they noticed that most of the vehicles in their driveway had open doors and trunks,” the press release states.

Detectives with the sheriff’s office believe the suspects, two young black males, searched several unlocked vehicles in the driveway before they entered the garage where the McLaren was parked. They drove the vehicle out of the garage then toward Providence Road where the crash occurred.

“Detectives are investigating the possibility that the McLaren crashed into a getaway vehicle that the suspects used in the crime,” according to UCSO.

Davis reported two stolen firearms from one of the unlocked vehicles in the driveway.

The investigation is active. Anyone with information that could lead to an arrest is encouraged to call UCSO at 704-283-3789 or they can call anonymously to Union County Crimestoppers at 704-283-5600.

Davis, 38, was a first-round pick of the Panthers in 2005 and he played 16 seasons in the NFL. The linebacker made the Pro Bowl three times. He retired from the NFL in March of 2021.

40 percent of county partially vaccinated
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UNION COUNTY — While the number of individuals who have received the COVID-19 vaccine in Union County continues to increase, the county lags behind the state as a percentage of total population. As of Wednesday (June 9), the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) reports 95,178 in the county have been partially vaccinated under all programs. The 40% compares to 44% of the state’s total population who are at least partially vaccinated. In the county, 86,596, or 36%, of the county is now fully vaccinated compared to 40% statewide.

According to NC DHHS data updated on Wednesday June 9 the total of cumulative cases of COVID-19 in the county is at 24,746 and the number of active cases is 133. Cumulative figures account for all reported cases since the beginning of the pandemic. Cumulative cases indicate both those who have tested positive and those who have come out of an isolation period.

The Union County Government COVID-19 online dashboard reported eight current hospitalizations. The county positivity rate was 2.6% on Wednesday. There have been 225 cumulative deaths in the county. The state’s positivity rate, reported by NC DHHS on Wednesday, was 2.7%.

According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health, any positivity rate above 5% is classified as “too high” and indicates that “more testing should probably be done.

Across the state, there have been a total of 1,006,809 COVID-19 cases per NC DHHS, and 13,229 virus related deaths.

Brody McCullough