13 May N.C. Budget Will Impact Classrooms (NC)

May 13, 2010

By: Sommer Brokaw
Source: The Triangle Tribune

Administrators and advocates urge lawmakers not to balance the budget on the backs of children, especially when some are already lagging behind their peers.

“We’re looking at a very disturbing possible impact on class size, and more resource and staffing reductions,” Hillside High School Principal Hans Lassiter said.

Lassiter said he was also concerned about keeping child and family support teams. “If potential cuts or reductions to child and family support teams come through, it could be disastrous,” he said. “We receive Department of Social Services referrals to give students who are in crisis much needed support, and I’m talking about students who are homeless, have domestic issues or societal and community issues where they look at school as a safe haven. Through CFST, we’re able to identify some of those problems and get our hands on some solutions. If that’s cut back, it will leave children in crisis with no support mechanism.”

With a $700 million projected shortfall, Gov. Beverly Perdue released her budget proposal early. It closes a $1.2 billion budget gap from lower than anticipated revenues and growth in e ntitlement requirements. To close the gap, she recommends implementing over $950 million in spending reductions, utilizing $550 million of additional federal Medicaid funds and earmarking $100 million to replenish the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

The four priorities she sets in the budget proposal are jobs and economic recovery, career and college, safe and healthy communities, and setting government straight. According to Durham Public Schools Budget and Manages Services report dated April 21, K-12 education reflects the largest reduction in the state budget with 2.2 percent additional cuts. Both the community colleges and university systems reflect increases of 1.8 percent and 7.3 percent, respectively.

It also showed CFST being cut with the loss of $174,000 in funding, which could impact contracts DPS has with the county related to nurses and school social workers.

In her proposed education budget, Perdue said that while most agencies received a 5 percent to 7 percent reduction, education was trimmed less than 4 percent. She also stipulated K-3 classrooms would be protected from cuts, including both teachers and teacher assistants.

“We’re all for staff increase in salaries. We support any payback, but we don’t support that over the cutting of personnel,” said Bill McNeal, executive director, N.C. Association of School Administrators. “Our first priority would be keeping people working before we give step increases and payback furloughs.”

Perdue recommends the $135 million reduction be a flexibility adjustment where education agencies maximize the use of federal funds to make up for the deficit, but administrators said there is little flexibility.

“We’re coming off of $225 million in discretionary cuts; it’s up to $304.8 million in discretionary cuts, the governor added another $135 million on top of that so we’re talking roughly $440 million,” McNeal said. “This past year, they cut over 5,000 employees through attrition and live bodies, which resulted in more than 2,400 teachers from the classroom. Now, there’s an even bigger flexible cut on the table, and it’s going to mean employees.”

Sheri Strickland, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, agrees. “If you look at the hits this year being even greater, the projecting results could be about 7,000 job losses in public education with the vast majority of cuts being made to teachers and teacher’s assistants,” Strickland said. “I don’t think anyone could make a case that this doesn’t impact the kids in the classroom.” 

Lawmakers are expected to finalize the budget by July 1.

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