NC teacher group lobbies unfriendly legislature

Posted June 15, 2011 6:10 a.m. EDT
Updated June 15, 2011 7:03 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina Senators heard Wednesday from public school workers before they voted to back up their $19.7 billion budget by overriding Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto.

The North Carolina Association of Educators lobbied the Senate to get more funding for public schools, presenting pennies and personal stories members had collected to lawmakers to try to sway they votes.

The effort failed, however, as the Senate voted along party lines to join the House in overriding Perdue's veto of the budget, which she said would reverse North Carolina's recent gains in education.

"They have chosen to turn their backs on our future," NCAE President Sheri Strickland said of lawmakers. "One penny could have prevented all of it."

Perdue and the teachers group wanted lawmakers to keep in place a temporary one-cent increase to the state sales tax rate to avoid cuts to education spending. The increase is set to expire at the end of June, and the Republican-led General Assembly refused to extend it, sticking to its promise to cut taxes.

"If we are about making sure every kid gets a good education, this is certainly not the way to do it," said Rep. Rosa Gill, D-Wake, a former teacher and member of the Wake County Board of Education.

"It's devastating for the rural counties. Wake County may fare a little better," Gill said.

David Neter, chief business officer for the Wake County Public School System, said the final budget means the school district will have to cut another $8 million in non-instructional spending. That will force the layoffs of hundreds more school employees, mostly custodians.

The district already has cut more than 200 central office and clerical positions and plans to reduce the pay of teaching assistants.

"People are going to feel it, I believe, and in the schools they are going to see it," Neter said.

Money left from a one-time federal grant will protect teacher and teaching assistant jobs for one more year. Without additional state funding, however, Wake County schools will start the budget process for the 2012-13 school year with a $30 million deficit after that grant runs out.

"That would be the equivalent of eliminating two grades worth of teacher's assistants," Neter said.

Cumberland County Schools issued 374 pink slips on Wednesday, including cutting 130 teachers and 179 teaching assistants, because of cuts in the state budget.

Noting North Carolina will rank 49th nationally in per-pupil spending – Utah ranks last – once the budget cuts take effect, Strickland said the NCAE will continue pressing for more education funding.

"Our schools, our educators and our children are too important to give up on," she said. "The fight will be continued. We will not be deterred, we will not be silenced and we will not forget."