Richmond County Schools Superintendent Dr. George Norris attended a pair of meetings in Raleigh last week where possible public education cuts in 2011 were discussed.
With the state facing an estimated $3.5 billion budget shortfall, the expiration of federal stimulus funds, Republicans taking over the General Assembly and education being the most expensive service the state offers - many in public education are reticent of large possible cuts coming next summer.
Norris said that during a Friday meeting with Gov. Bev Perdue, she said there is no more stimulus money coming down the pipe and she won’t recommend the General Assembly extend several taxes into 2011.
“Basically, they’re saying there is a $3.5 billion budget shortfall, which is quite a bit of money to have to come up with,” Norris said Monday. “The question that’s out there is, with K-12 education being the biggest part of the state’s budget, how much of that balancing of the budget is going to fall on public schools?”
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) published departmental plans for cuts of 5 percent and 10 percent for the Office of State Budget and Management, in response to a request from Gov. Perdue.
In a press release, DPI said the cuts would result in teacher layoffs, smaller class sizes, fewer course offerings and less help for struggling students.
“At a time when everyone seems to believe that education and learning are keys to survival in the global economy, we cannot turn back the clock,” State Superintendent Dr. June Atkinson said in the release. “North Carolina public schools received less from the state’s General Fund in 2010-11 than in 2006-07, even though we now have at least 40,000 more students. These cuts would continue this under-funding. We have already reduced non-essential costs. Additional cuts will hit the classroom and hurt teachers and students.”
DPI Chief Financial Officer Philip Price said the 5 and 10 percent cuts really reflect a higher percentage because have to be viewed in tandem with the 4 percent reversions of funds the state is instituting with local school systems.
“In reality, the 5 percent cut would add up to a 9 percent cut when you consider the ongoing hole built in our schools’ budgets,” Price said. “The 10 percent cut would become a 14 percent cut. This is the third year that public school budgets have been cut.”
According to DPI, North Carolina is the sixth fastest growing state in America, but it is currently only 42nd in public school funding. A 5 percent cut would amount to about $700 million in cuts, while a 10 percent cut would lop off about $1.1 billion, the equivalent of eliminating state funding for 165 schools.
“We’re just taking a wait-and-see attitude,” Norris said of RCS. “We have tried to position ourselves to maximize the money we have ... I’m not going to try to panic our people. I think it’s really important for us to help this large group of people who are going to the General Assembly for the first time understand what we do in public education and how we spend our money, because I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there.”
“It’s up to us to give them a realistic picture of all the good things we do.”
One freshman legislator who is familiar with the budgeting situation at public schools is N.C. Rep.-elect Ken Goodman, who voters chose to represent them in Raleigh after he got the nod as chairman of the Richmond County Board of Education last year.
In its release, DPI pointed out classroom teacher reductions could reach up to more than 5,300 and class sizes increasing in every grade, the layoffs of more than 13,000 teacher assistants, less assistant principals and cuts in academically-gifted programs of up to 10 percent and up to 4 percent cuts in special education. In addition, DPI predicts having to reduce its own numbers by nearly a tenth and local school district central office administration by 5 or 8 percent.
“I’m hearing a lot of doom and gloom (about next year’s state budget), but I don’t think there’s anything out there that anybody needs to panic about,” Norris said. “Let’s see what happens before we panic. I’m hoping this will have a minimal impact on us.”
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.