Lawyers: NC legislature should redo schools budget

Posted June 23, 2011 4:01 a.m. EDT
Updated June 24, 2011 10:14 a.m. EDT

— Lawyers for North Carolina school districts challenging the nearly $20 billion state budget approved last week want a judge to order the Legislature to redo the spending plan.

Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. adjourned the two-day hearing Thursday without an immediate ruling. He declined to say when his decision would be ready, but the plaintiff's attorneys say they hope it is before the new state budget takes effect on July 1.

Manning is considering whether state officials are following the constitutional requirement that every North Carolina child have the opportunity to a sound, basic education.

Lawyers for school boards in the long-running lawsuit say the state budget taking effect next month fails to meet constitutional obligations. They want Manning to order the Legislature to rewrite parts of the budget.

They also want Manning to issue an immediate injunction to prevent slashing funds at the Pre-K More at Four program and moving it over to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Lawmakers who wrote and passed the budget were not called to testify. Instead, the state's attorney called two state Department of Public Instruction employees who seemed to support the plaintiff's claims.

However, in closing arguments Deputy Attorney General Tom Ziko said claims of targeting education are unfounded. He says the government is living up to its duties despite the worst recession since the 1930s.

The head of the North Carolina association representing school superintendents says the nearly $20 billion state budget approved last week will mean layoffs for thousands of teachers.

North Carolina School Superintendents Association executive director Jim Causby testified Thursday that he agrees with an estimate that the reduced funding and other changes will result in the loss of about 3,500 teaching jobs.

Causby says superintendents are also worried about impending layoffs of assistant principals, which he says are needed to ensure schools are safe and that teacher performance is monitored.

WRAL News asked the state's Republican leaders for comment. Senate leader Phil Berger declined, saying it is not appropriate to comment on pending judicial cases.

House Speaker Thom Tillis released the following statement:

"If Judge Manning wants to vote on the budget, he should run for office as a legislator. While I respect his opinion on judicial matters, it appears that this is an attempt to literally legislate from the bench. I respectfully disagree with his conclusions; our education budget is only 0.5 percent different from the governor’s, and it protects classroom funding, including every teacher and teacher assistant position in the state."