Lawmakers, school leaders spar over budget

A week after the final budget compromise was rolled out, lawmakers and educators still don't agree on what it does for schools.

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Laura Leslie
RALEIGH, N.C. — A week after the final budget compromise was rolled out, lawmakers and educators still don't agree on what it does for schools and teachers.

Republican leaders hailed the deal as the "largest teacher pay raise in state history," although the truth of that claim depends to some degree on interpretation, since prior governors have given similarly large raises.

The average 7 percent raise included the longevity pay many teachers were already owed by the state under the terms of their employment agreement.  Without including longevity pay, the actual average raise was closer to 5.5 percent, according to Gov. Pat McCrory, who has already said he will sign the deal.

Republicans also touted additional money in the budget to reduce class sizes in early grades and said no current teaching assistant would be cut under the plan.

Left unmentioned in the budget debate, however, was a change in the formula by which the state funds enrollment growth in public schools.

Average daily membership, or ADM, is a per-student amount that each school district gets from the state, based on enrollment numbers. In the past, ADM adjustments have been prospective – that is, districts were funded based on projected growth for the coming year.  The change makes ADM adjustments retrospective – that is, the state will reimburse districts for additional students after the fact. Schools will have to cover the cost of the additional students in the meantime.

At a news conference Wednesday morning, House and Senate Democratic leaders called the budget a political "shell game" intended to head off voter anger about cuts to education funding.

"It’s a ridiculous attempt to create a 90-day Band-Aid, to appease teachers and parents until after the election," House Minority Leader Larry Hall said.

"This budget continues to hurt public education and hopes teachers and parents won't notice. Well, our teachers and citizens are not stupid, and in fact, they have noticed," said Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue.  "Nobody is fooled by this budget."

"By rolling longevity pay into the base pay, they’re simply returning money that the teachers already had and were entitled to, and they’re calling it a raise," Blue, D-Wake, added. "It’s in the interest of the Republicans to claim that the pay raise is greater than it is, but do the arithmetic." 

Blue referenced a report Tuesday night by the Wake County Board of Education showing the new budget will leave the system with a $12.6 million funding gap. About $11.1 million of that is salary and benefits the Wake County Public School System will have to pay to increase local supplements, which are calculated as a percentage of state pay.

Even though Wake County will receive $8.8 million more for teachers and $90,000 more for textbooks, it will receive $9 million less for teaching assistants, as well as $520,000 less for transportation and $739,000 less for at-risk students.

The net loss in state funds to Wake County alone, according to the report, is $1.5 million.  

Rep. Skip Stam, R-Wake, blamed most of the funding gap on the school board, which he says didn't budget sufficient money to match the state pay raise. 

They asked us to really raise teacher pay high, but they didn't provide money if we did," Stam said. "It's like the Menendez brothers who murdered their parents and then threw themselves on the mercy of the court because they were orphans." 

Asked specifically about the $1.5 million net loss in state funding, Stam brushed it aside. 

"The budget for Wake County's school system is approximately $1.3 billion. They can easily find the money for those things if they'll work on it for about half an hour," he said. 

Asked about the change to the ADM funding, Stam said he hadn't been aware of it previously but wasn't worried about its effects. 

"I have never seen so much squealing about getting more money," he remarked, shaking his head. 

 McCrory said Wednesday afternoon he plans to sign the budget by the end of the week.


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