11 May State Superintendent in Asheville to Push For School Funding (NC)

May 11, 2010

By: Julie Ball
Source: Citizen Times

Larger class sizes, fewer support personnel and a shortage of supplies.

Local school officials say those are just some of the effects of cuts to education funding  But more cuts are looming, and on Monday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson was in Asheville to issue a warning.

“If we move forward with the proposed budget, we stand to lose approximately 6,000 more teachers and other personnel,” Atkinson said.

Amid last year’s budget crisis, state funding for 16,000 positions was cut.

Federal stimulus dollars helped cushion state cuts at the local level, but those dollars go away in the 2011-12 school year, creating a more than $1 billion hole for North Carolina schools.

“I am real concerned because last year, they cut six teachers/teaching assistant positions, they increased class size, they cut supplies…,” said Tara Deines, who has a child at Fairview Elementary.

Deines said teachers have asked the Fairview Elementary PTA to help pay for basic supplies, including paper and toner for the copier.

“That’s a sad state of affairs when our teachers are asking our PTA for paper and toner,” Deines said.

But Buncombe County School superintendent Tony Baldwin said county schools are trying to protect jobs. More than 80 percent of Buncombe County schools funding goes toward personnel costs.

“There’s only so much paper and pencils you can cut before you say that’s it,” Baldwin said. “We hate to have to ask the community for that (help with supplies) , but that is an area they can help with.”

Schools are the second-largest employer in Buncombe County.

When it comes to more cuts, “We are at people, and people impact the classroom,” Buncombe County school board Member Ann Franklin said.

More cuts

North Carolina is looking at a deficit of at least $800 million. The state is taking in less revenue than anticipated while the economic downturn has created greater demand for services.

“We know that schools must do their part when it comes to our budget situation,” Atkinson said. But Atkinson says more cuts put the state’s future economic development at risk.

Local schools already were preparing for more cuts in the upcoming budget year.

Buncombe County, for example, was planning for an additional $1.4 million in cuts.

But with the bleak budget situation, Baldwin said county sch ools are looking at another $2.36 million in cuts this year in addition to the $1.4 million. County schools also face higher costs in the form of teacher raises, retirement costs and health insurance.

Educators say they’ve already seen the results of last year’s budget cuts.

Andy Peoples, principal at North Buncombe Elementary, said his school lost a key technology support person last year.

<span style="color: #000000"& gt;“Those cuts last year halted much of the forward progress (of North Carolina schools),” he said.

Hall Fletcher Elementary teacher Kyley Ferris said the larger class sizes in grades four though 12 mean less individual attention for students.

“Classrooms are not one-size-fits-all,” she said.

Tara Irby has a son at Hall Fletcher, and she’s worried about more cuts to public schools.

“I am concerned about the shortfall and budget, and being able to provide the education my son deserves,” she said. “I just need to know where we stand as a school system so I know where to go from here as a parent.”

Short session

Parents and educators will gather in Raleigh on Saturday for a Fund Schools First rally against deep budget cuts for schools. The North Carolina Association of Educators and N.C. Parent-Teacher Association are teaming up as part of the Fund Schools First campaign.

Meanwhile, North Carolina lawmakers return to Raleigh on Wednesday, and the N.C. Senate is expected to release its budget proposal May 20.

State Rep. Susan Fisher said state lawmakers may need to look at how other states pay for education.

“I think this is certainly a time that calls for us to look at new ways of doing things,” she said.

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