@NCCapitol

NC school board: Budget would cause 'irreparable harm'

Posted June 2, 2011 11:53 a.m. EDT
Updated June 2, 2011 3:32 p.m. EDT

— The State Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday on a resolution declaring that the current $19.7 billion state budget proposal would do "irreparable harm" to schools and students.

"I read our leaders talking about us being a broken system and that they have a plan for our broken system," State School Board Chairman Bill Harrison said. "Well, I think their plan is a plan to break an improving system."

The revised spending proposal from the Senate would give $300 million more to public schools than the House budget plan approved last month, according to the budget document.

It also restores funding for 13,000 teaching assistant positions and includes $61 million to hire another 1,100 teachers in grades K-3, both of which had been part of the original Senate budget.

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 $429 million that local school officials will have to give back to lawmakers this year.

Harrison and state schools Superintendent Dr. June Atkinson said the budget would cut thousands more jobs than the governor's budget would have because the state is now pushing more "flexible cuts" to school districts.

"The only place they can go to get that flex cut is to people," Harrison said. "So, to say that we've reinstated the teacher assistants – well, we've reinstated that line item, but there still are going to be many teacher assistants losing their jobs. There's still going to be many teachers losing their jobs."

"The responsibility for making the cuts will be on the shoulders of the superintendents and local boards of education," Atkinson added. "Since most of our dollars are in people, they will have to cut teacher's assistants, they will have to cut teachers, they will have to cut school counselors."

Other concerns range from taking away classroom support to extra student security, currently provided by assistant principals who might lose their jobs, and the impact to early-education programs, such as More at 4.

Republican lawmakers have said that they protected all public school teachers and teaching assistants, but Gov. Bev Perdue this week said she still has "enormous concerns" about the proposed budget, which she says appears to be a "charade."

On Wednesday, her office issued a series of news releases analyzing the impact on school districts across the state.

The Wake County Public School System, for example, would lose $42.3 million under the proposed spending plan, while Durham Public Schools would have to cut $9.3 million and Cumberland County Schools would lose $15.1 million, according to the analysis by Perdue's staff.

"Don't say, 'We are reforming a broken system,'" Harrison said. "Say, 'I don't care about public schools, I am going to break an improving system, and here is my budget by which I am going to do it.'"

"I think this budget is a disgrace," he added.

Senators passed the budget bill 31-19 on Thursday. Republican lawmakers said they hope the plan will make it through the House and reach Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue's desk by the end of the week.

Republicans in the Senate have a veto-proof majority. Five House Democrats have said that they plan to vote for the budget bill, which would give the House a veto-proof majority also.

Perdue, who hasn't offered any indication about whether she will veto it, said Thursday that she still hopes those Democrats will be with her.