State News

School districts asked to return $58M to state

Posted November 19, 2008 3:43 p.m. EST
Updated November 19, 2008 6:40 p.m. EST

— To help ease North Carolina's state budget shortfall, school districts are being asked to return $58 million they've already received from the state.

The Department of Public Instruction told the 115 districts this week that they must return money based on their student populations. The request equals about $39 per student.

Wake County is expected to send back about $5.4 million, while Cumberland County will lose about $2 million. The districts in Franklin and Granville counties are losing more than $300,000 each because their budgets are much smaller than the urban districts' budgets.

"We all know that we're in the same boat. We see the same figures that they see. We understand that we all share this problem," said Allan Jordan, associate superintendent of Granville County Schools.

Gov. Mike Easley's budget office has assembled a plan to find up to $1.2 billion. Easley didn't make public school reductions mandatory, but the department said it could find up to $117 million.

"The governor and the state budget office [have] tried, (from) when the state budget opened up essentially in July all the way until now, not to take this action with the public schools," said J.B. Buxton, deputy superintendent of the state Department of Public Instruction.

Seven years ago, Buxton said, public schools were asked to give back $44 million during a budget crisis. That was a larger percentage of state spending on education at that time than the $58 million is this year, he said.

State money pays for teacher base salaries, textbooks and other instructional needs. The public schools regularly return unused money at the end of each fiscal year. Districts are being given discretion over where to make the cuts.

Buxton said he doesn't believe teachers will lose their jobs because of the tight budget.

Jordan said Granville schools would spread the cuts across all departments to minimize the impact.

"Our children are the most important resource we have. We should try not to cut at all," said Carol Nelson, a teacher in Oxford. "I understand that the state has to tighten up in order to be able to run things efficiently, but we really are not wasteful."