Berger vs. Atkinson, Round 3

Posted February 4, 2016

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger

— State budget officials have sided with top Senate leaders in their spat with state Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson over whether education officials diverted money from the classroom to salaries for bureaucrats.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said on Monday that be believes $3.8 million lawmakers had set aside for reading camps and other literacy programs had instead been plowed into a reorganization of the Department of Public Instruction.

On Tuesday, Atkinson appeared before a Joint Legislative Education Oversight panel and insisted all of the money would be spent as budgeted. She insisted that the cuts lawmakers were pointing to had been carried out through reductions in staff.

On Thursday, State Budget Director Andrew Heath said that the bulk of the money in question appears to have been diverted.

"OSBM's review of DPI's January 8 proposal revealed that DPI would have redirected more than $2 million of Excellent Public Schools Act funds to refinance existing DPI operations, and achieved operational savings of less than $500,000," Heath wrote.

He goes on to say that information DPI provided to OSBM conflicts with information Atkinson gave to Berger this week.

"OSBM respectfully requests that DPI submit a detailed proposal to OSBM that clearly and succinctly demonstrates a reduction of $2.5 million in operating and administrative expenses that does not detract from the $3.8 million increased investment to improve reading in our schools," Heath wrote.

Berger, R-Rockingham, cited some of the same information used by OSBM in a news release.

"It’s bad enough we have a Department of Public Instruction with priorities so misplaced that they proposed shifting money intended to help children around our state learn to read to fund Raleigh bureaucrats," he wrote. "But for the State Superintendent to then turn around, deny it and attempt to cover their tracks is a textbook example of the lengths bloated bureaucracies will go to protect themselves."

Education officials insist that have complied with state budget directives.

"We believe that the legislation clearly gives the Department authority to use some of the Excellent Public Schools Act money to administer the program," said DPI spokeswoman Vanessa Jeter. "Nonetheless, none of the positions being cut are being back-filled in any way. They are cut from NCDPI effectively immediately. There was an earlier submission that did shift some positions from one funding source to another, but the submission of this week is intended to replace the earlier submission. We had not received any feedback or approval regarding the earlier submission."


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