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Misusing or misunderstanding? Berger, Atkinson spar over literacy funding

Posted February 1, 2016 6:35 p.m. EST
Updated February 1, 2016 6:47 p.m. EST

Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham

— The Senate's top leader says the Department of Public Instruction is misusing money meant for literacy programs, a charge Superintendent June Atkinson denies.

Senate Present Pro Tem Phil Berger wrote to Atkinson on Monday about $3.8 million that he says the department had diverted from reading camps and other elementary reading programs to blunt budget cuts at the department in Raleigh.

"I understand that DPI has proposed taking crucial funds designated for helping children to learn to read and using them to preserve DPI's bloated bureaucracy in clear violation of the budget's requirement for a reduction in the department's operating costs," Berger, R-Rockingham, wrote.

Further, Berger said that Office of State Budget and Management had already flagged the spending as inappropriate. But he said Atkinson, the State Board of Education and other DPI officials had met secretly to shift the funding anyway.

"I am appreciative of Sen. Berger for sending us his letter," Atkinson said late Monday. "It gives us an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings."

Atkinson said that the money Berger was concerned about was still working its way through the approval process and was due to be released to literacy programs over the next month.

"Every dollar of that (money) will be allocated to local school districts," Atkinson said, adding that nothing had been done secretly.

Berger asked for a response from Atkinson clarifying the issue by the end of the week.