State, local budget measures
Already struggling to deal with cuts from the county, Union County school officials got a look Wednesday, May 4 at what they may have to accept from the state in terms of funding. The North Carolina House of Representatives passed what’s known as a “veto proof” budget, with all the body’s Republican members and five Democrats in favor. The document, which now goes before the state Senate for a vote, contains several changes for school districts, including one that won’t be revealed until 2012.
Funding for new textbooks in Union County would be cut by 80 percent, with the Board of Education barred from adopting any new editions until July 1, 2013 at the earliest. There would also be a 48 percent cut in state funded teacher’s assistant positions.
“Anyone who says that’s not affecting the classroom is in la-la land,” Union County Board of Education member Carolyn Lowder said. Speaking at the Tuesday, May 3 school board meeting, Lowder highlighted issues with the at that time proposed budget.
“All these people tell us, why don’t you run it like a business?” Lowder said. “A business puts money into professional development. We’ve grown significantly, our budget has not. A counselor dealing with an additional 250 students can’t learn names.”
Currently there is a projected $2.5 billion gap that needs to be filled by the General Assembly. The state should only expect an estimated $27 million more to come in before the end of June, Gov. Perdue’s office said after the House finalized their vote Wednesday night.
Overall, $650 million was trimmed from Perdue’s proposed budget for public schools, community colleges and universities. While the majority of the cut fell on the university system, the three together would receive 11 percent less than what would be needed just to remain at current spending levels, without cuts. One regret for Union County officials is the elimination of the 1 cent sales tax by the House.
The 1 cent tax had been set to expire this year, but Democrats and school districts lobbied hard to extend it at least one more term, arguing that keeping even 75 percent of that revenue would generate $826 million, enough to prevent major cuts. That $826 million figure was estimated by the North Carolina School Boards Association.
“If they would (have) extended the 1 cent sales tax, this would almost fill the gap created by the loss of the (American Reinvestment) funds,” Union County Superintendent Ed Davis said.
The House budget calls for additional cuts in the years to come. It states in the next two years, local districts have to make every effort to reduce spending and trim what state officials see as some of the fat in the budget. To make sure this doesn’t mean teachers get eliminated first, the House dictated that at least 65 percent of the budget must go to for classroom instruction. In order to do that, the budget instructs the State Board of Education to ignore the current formulas that determine where funding is allotted.
“In making reductions, local (districts) shall first consider reductions to central office administration and other administrative functions,” the budget reads.
The House also gave local districts total flexibility in dealing with the cuts.
Looking to make changes
In addition to cuts, the House budget calls for a study to be done over the next year, considering changes to how schools operate and how they are funded. As it stands, the General Assembly’s Joint Oversight Committee would do research and then report during next year’s session, presenting a comprehensive plan. That study would include researching the effectiveness of teacher assistants, specific reasons why students drop out and why at risk students stay in school. The committee would look at dropout prevention programs throughout the state, to determine what works and what doesn’t.
Additionally, teacher pay and it’s relationship with student performance would be examined, as well as determining if salary supplements, such as bonuses for master’s degrees and national board certification should be kept. The committee would be asked to study what impact the supplemental income has on student performance, as well as what methods of implementing a pay for performance program for teachers would possibly work.
“It is a priority that children in all grades receive quality education from high quality teachers that are ready and able to teach and that children are promoted in an educationally appropriate manner,” the budget reads.
Finally, the committee would be asked to examine strategies to reduce teacher paperwork, in order that teachers could spend more time in the classroom. Also the teacher student ratio would be examined, with the potential to reduce it in all schools to 1 teacher for every 15 students through third grade.
The bill appears to be set for a vote in the Senate, which also has a Republican majority.
The school board also came closer May 3 to approving a local budget for next year. The board will take a final vote on the proposed budget during a May 10 work session. As it stands, the school district would receive $79,504,155 from the county, the same level as in the current year’s budget. That would include a $2.5 million cut, involving an 11 percent drop in central services staff, a 2 percent cut in maintenance, 6 percent drop in furniture and equipment and a 60 percent cut in funding for media assistants. At the May 3 meeting, Davis said that would mean all elementary schools would lose their media assistants for the upcoming year. The cut also includes a 17 percent drop in both master’s degree and national board supplements, reducing that from $1800 per year to $1500.
“I have a concern we’re suffering through a thousand little cuts,” Board of Education member John Crowder said. “It’s all coming at the expense of the current generation. I’m not pleased with it.”