Johnston schools brace for even deeper budget cuts

The head of Johnston County's public school system says deeper budget cuts will likely mean more job layoffs.

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SMITHFIELD, N.C. — The head of Johnston County's public school system says deeper budget cuts will likely mean more layoffs.

In April, the Johnston County Board of Education eliminated 123 positions, including 74 teaching assistant jobs, to prepare for reduced state funding.

When Superintendent Ed Croom drew up the proposed budget then, he expected the state's contribution to be about 10 percent less than last year.

Now, he said Monday, the most recent version of the state's nearly $20 billion budget will end up costing Johnston County Schools approximately $3 million in additional funding.

Although the Republican-written state spending plan, which Gov. Bev Perdue has criticized for harming education, preserves funding for teaching assistant positions and additional teachers for lower-elementary grades, it cuts more than $120 million in general funding for schools.

Many school systems have said that their budgets have been drained so much, the only place left to trim spending is in personnel.

"Our students will feel that educational impact in a negative way," Croom said.

He hopes about $2 million in remaining federal grant money aimed at protecting teaching jobs will be enough to hold on to dozens of employees for at least the next school year.

Beyond that, he expects it to be devastating.

"We know going into this budget that, in 12 months, we are going to be going through this again if the economy doesn't turn around," he said.

Another budget concern for the next school year is keeping buses running.

The new budget adds five days to the school calendar, which Croom says will cost the school system an estimated $250,000 in transportation costs.

"We're taking a hit. On one end, our pot has gotten smaller, and on the other end, the number of days is growing, which is going to cost us to transport those students," Croom said.

As Croom waits to see what the final numbers will be, he worries about the possible toll on classrooms.

"I don't know that we really know the full effect of what this budget is going to do to public education," he said.

Republicans have said that estimates that their budget could eliminate more than 13,000 teaching positions have been exaggerated.

Perdue has yet to say whether she will veto the budget bill, which was approved by the General Assembly over the weekend.

Even if she does, it's likely it will go into law, as both chambers have enough votes to override a veto.


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