Gov. Bev Perdue didn't use the "V" word today, but she said just about everything but.
"Don't let them fool you," she told reporters on a conference call this afternoon. "They are not protecting public classrooms."
Earlier in the day, Republican leaders expressed hope that Perdue might agree to their latest budget deal, which eliminates a $390 M cut of 13,000 teachers' assistant jobs in grades 1 and 2. The package also includes $61 million for additional teachers to reduce class sizes in grades K-3.
But the measure also increases general cuts to local school systems from $4 million to $128 million. That's on top of existing cuts from the last budget cycle, adding up to a total of $429 million local school officials will have to give back to lawmakers this year.
Republicans say local officials can best decide where to make those cuts, which they say can be made in administration and support without harming classrooms. But Perdue said the changes amount to little more than shuffling money around.
"It’s a charade of sorts," she said. "There’s no way for them to take these cuts without firing teachers and teachers' assistants."
Perdue said local school systems have already cut everything they can outside the classroom. "They’ve done more with less for two years," she added. "There is nothing else left for them to cut but warm bodies."
When asked if she would veto the budget deal, Perdue would only say she had earlier promised to veto any budget that "doesn't protect the classroom."
"I'm hoping for a miracle on Jones St. tomorrow," she said, referring to the possibility the bill could be amended during the Senate floor debate.
Perdue also said she doesn't believe last fall's election amounted to a voter mandate to "defund" state schools and universities. "The economy was the driving issue, and that’s what that election was about. You know it and I know it."
Would she sign any budget that didn't include her proposed extension of a temporary sales tax? "There’s nothing off the table for me," she said. "If it’s not the sales tax, bring me a revenue source."
Republicans say they won't consider extending the sales tax increase or finding another revenue source. They say the revenue set to flow into state coffers next year is more than enough to meet state needs, if it's spent wisely.
But Perdue says it isn't enough, and she thinks voters agree with her.
"It’s just a silly choice," Perdue said. "It’s one they don’t have to make."