State board 'trying to avoid any more staff cuts' to NC education department

Posted August 24

State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey

— In the past month, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has laid off seven full-time employees, cut pay for 19 others and eliminated eight vacant positions due to mandated budget cuts. With $737,000 in budget cuts yet to be made, the State Board of Education chairman said he's hopeful the department's remaining employees can keep their jobs.

"Let me put it this way, we’re trying to avoid any more staff cuts," Chairman Bill Cobey told WRAL News by phone Thursday, noting that he can't make any guarantees.

The state board has been working this summer to reduce the state education department's operating funds by 6.2 percent – $3.2 million – after the General Assembly voted to cut the department's budget.

Last month, the state board approved $2.5 million in cuts – $1.6 million in staff layoffs and more than $865,000 in operating reductions – most of which are expected to impact low-performing schools and teacher training in the state. This week, the board met in closed session to discuss where to cut some of the remaining $737,000.

Staff presented the board with several options, including paying four employees' salaries with federal money instead of state funds, allowing the staffers to keep their jobs. That would also save the department from paying severance to the employees if they were laid off.

"I’m hopeful that we wont have to cut any more personnel this time around. I’m still not sure, still not 100 percent," Cobey said. "The staff was going back and working on different ideas about how to shift funds."

The board is also considering reducing the department's salary reserve by $70,000, meaning the agency would have less flexibility with salaries for current and future employees.

"In other words, it just takes away that option of adding money to another position that is reclassified or a payment needs to be increased in that position because we haven’t been able to recruit in the salary that is there," Cobey said.

Some proposed operating reductions to the department include more than $230,000 in travel cuts.

"I’m not happy that we’re cutting operations this much," Cobey said. "However, as long as we're leaving enough operation money for our remaining staff to get their job fully done, I’m OK with it. But I think you have to be careful as to how you cut back operating expenses, because if staff needs to travel you don’t want to force them to have to stay in the office."

The state board is expected to vote on where to cut the remaining $737,000 at its meeting on Sept. 7. In the meantime, Cobey said he hopes lawmakers will scrap plans for an even bigger cut to the department next year. The General Assembly voted to reduce the department's operating funds 13.9 percent – $7.3 million – for 2018-19.

"My greatest desire is that the General Assembly will see how hard we have worked on this and take a look at the result of our budget cuts and decide to back off of the additional budget cuts that have been passed for the second year," Cobey said.


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