News, Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools

Former DPI finance chief: Senate budget would “totally destroy” capacity at NC’s public school agency

The recently-retired finance chief of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction says a state Senate-approved $22.9 billion budget would cripple the agency’s ability to provide support and guidance for public school districts.

“The cut proposed in the Senate budget would totally destroy the ability of the (DPI) to deliver’s what’s legislatively required of them to do and also to support the school districts,” Philip Price, DPI’s former chief financial officer, told Policy Watch Monday. “It’s ridiculous to even comprehend how they would be able to manage it.”

Among its myriad controversial provisions, the state budget, which is likely to undergo a facelift in the N.C. House of Representatives, includes a whopping 25 percent cut in operations funding for DPI. That’s about a $13.1 million loss for each year of the biennial budget.

That’s on top of $15 million in cuts over the next two years for central office administration in the state’s school districts.

Senate Republican leadership pitched their spending package as a major investment in teacher pay and principal pay that focuses on outcomes rather than bureaucracy.

However, critics say the Senate’s sweeping cuts to the organization responsible for leading North Carolina’s public schools will severely hamper the agency’s ability to provide support in some of the state’s poorest districts, which are often low-performing.

Price agreed, pointing out larger districts with a deeper tax base are less likely to rely on DPI for professional development and outreach in low-performing schools.

Low-performing school intervention is a key function of the agency’s operations, although DPI also provides oversight and support in curriculum and finance, teacher training and more. The K-12 department’s emerged as a frequent target of GOP education reformers in the state legislature, especially in the state Senate.

“There is zero chance the department could effectively do the job they’re asked to do with that level of reduction,” Price added Monday.

Price retired in February after more than three decades at DPI, where he was integral in developing the state’s public schools budget.

Budget reductions are nothing new for the agency, which, since 2009, has weathered more than $19 million in legislative funding cuts and the loss of hundreds of positions, although K-12 leaders—including Price—agree this year’s GOP-proposed cutbacks would be particularly damaging, a point emphasized by State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey last week.

The DPI budget is just one of several areas of the Senate budget that’s spurred criticism from Democrats and public school advocates who note that—according to a new, nonpartisan report—North Carolina’s national ranking in per-pupil spending dropped to a lowly 43rd this year.

Opponents say the GOP plan’s proposal for about $1 billion in tax breaks for individuals and corporations will starve already underfunded departments such as DPI, although Senate Republicans said last week that they believe their budget plan invests “generously” in public schools while returning money to taxpayers.

“We understand that some want to spend more than this budget spends,” said Senate President Phil Berger, R-Guilford, Rockingham. “But memories can be short. We have not forgotten the mess we found in 2011, the result of years of spending growth at unsustainable levels and we feel strongly that when government collects more than it needs, some of that money should be returned to the taxpayers.”

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat who sits on the chamber’s education and budget committees, called the spending plan a “millionaire’s budget” Monday.

“They want to continue to under-fund and under-invest in public education,” said Chaudhuri. “That’s really the bottom line.”

Despite the potential loss of millions in K-12 funding, DPI’s chief administrator, newly-elected Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, has been quiet on the issue.

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News, Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools, Trump Administration

In DeVos nomination, Sen. Richard Burr to cast confirmation vote on one of his key contributors

Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education

Despite significant push-back from progressives and public school backers, members of a key U.S. Senate committee are expected to confirm President Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos, on Tuesday.

As critics point out, DeVos, a controversial school choice Republican in Michigan, has no professional experience in public schools. Nevertheless, conservatives tout her as a reformer who will aid children languishing in long-struggling public schools.

But here’s one overlooked component of this developing story: Richard Burr, North Carolina’s senior senator and a member of the Senate confirmation committee that could advance or turn back DeVos on Tuesday, has benefited from the political largesse of DeVos and her wealthy Michigan family in recent years.

According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog in D.C., DeVos’ family made individual contributions to Burr’s campaign in 2015 totaling $43,200. Family members each gave $2,700, the maximum amount per individual allowed for a candidate during one election cycle.

Of course, given the murkiness of federal election laws concerning Super PACs, it’s hard to gauge exactly how much DeVos cash went Burr’s way.

But it’s worth noting Burr, in the midst of a tight race with Democrat Deborah Ross last year, reportedly received a major boost weeks before Election Day from groups like the Senate Leadership Fund, a conservative Super PAC that pledged last September to spend a whopping $8 million on North Carolina television ads.

Records show DeVos’ family funneled $2.25 million to the Super PAC in 2016.

Burr is expected to cast a vote in support of DeVos Tuesday, despite blistering criticism from groups such as the American Federation of Teachers, the N.C. Association of Educators and more.

Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools, Uncategorized

Tracking the Cuts: Jackson County drains $500,000 out of savings for its public schools; Rowan-Salisbury lays off 46 employees

trackingCuts-web-600The Macon County News reports that Jackson County will have to dip into $500,000 of its general fund balance in order to pay for teacher positions, teacher pay raises and teacher assistants, thanks to a state budget that disinvests in public education for another year in a row.

In addition to county support, Jackson County has taken the initiative to start cutting positions in hopes of bracing for the impact of the lack of funding from the state.

“We have been cutting back on teacher assistant positions when possible because of the trend to not fund them,” said Dr. Murray [Jackson County Schools Superintendent]. “We have currently only done this through attrition or through transfers within our own district. The trend statewide will be to eliminate teacher assistants in all areas except K-1 classrooms. 

Like so many other educators across the state, Jackson County recognizes the need for teacher assistants and hopes that the state level will make changes soon. “Our teacher assistants are valuable members of our educational family,” said Dr. Murray. “They are used appropriately and help reduce our class size by working with students in small groups and assisting the teacher in providing differentiated instruction in the classroom.”

Rowan-Salisbury Schools made  a decision on how they will handle the state’s budget cuts to public schools — they laid off 46 employees last week.

Forty-six Rowan-Salisbury employees found out Friday they will be without a job this school year.

“Schools operate like families, so when you lose someone on your staff — for a school, it’s like losing a family member,” said Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody.

Due to state budget cuts and a dwindling fund balance, the district cut 79 positions — 18 district-wide personnel, 15 school-based personnel and 46 teacher assistants.

Of those 46 layoffs, 32 were teacher assistants. Many of those TAs doubled as school bus drivers (see my story about this issue here).

It’s not the first time Rowan-Salisbury has had to reduce its workforce.

Since the financial downturn in 2008, roughly 300 positions have been cut.

This time the cuts are because of reductions in state teacher assistant funding and the district’s fund balance.

The state budget called for a 22 percent, or $1.3 million, reduction in funding for teacher assistants.

Got more public school cuts resulting from the new state budget to report? Email me at lindsay@ncpolicywatch.com 

 

Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools

Tracking the Cuts: Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Randolph County schools forced to eliminate jobs

trackingCuts-web-600Members of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education approved a budget last week that eliminates 22 teacher assistant positions, thanks to a $911,000 budget shortfall handed down by state lawmakers.

According to chapelboro.com:

Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Todd LoFrese said that while the state budget would allow Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools to shift some money back into hiring TAs if so desired, the legislature slipped in some additional rules that would have resulted in eight more teacher losses than the school system could handle.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro also had to cut 4.5 gifted specialist positions and eliminate some custodial positions.

According to the Raleigh News & Observer, the city’s school system was able to move those TAs into other vacant positions, but classrooms in grades 4 and 5 will have to cope with less instructional support.

State budget cuts also forced Randolph County Schools to make reductions in force: that district cut 30 media assistant positions for the upcoming year.

RCS’ Public Information Officer Tim Moody said the district does have other vacancies available and it’s possible some of those media assistants were able to step into those jobs, but he wasn’t sure how many.

Each school in the district lost a media assistant position.

Gov. McCrory signed a 260-page budget bill earlier this month that spends $105 million less than what was previously budgeted for teacher assistants, even though he has repeatedly said he would only sign a budget that preserves all TA positions. 

School districts around the state are reporting that they have been forced to eliminate teacher assistants’ jobs and other positions thanks to budget shortfalls passed down to them by state lawmakers.

Do you know of budget cuts school districts are coping with as they begin the academic year? Send me an email at lindsay@ncpolicywatch.com 

Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools

Scotland County Schools will cut TAs’ hours to save jobs

trackingCuts-web-600Members of the Scotland County Schools Board of Education voted on Monday to cut teacher assistants’ hours to 88 percent for the upcoming school year as a way to save jobs while coping with state budget reductions.

To keep teacher assistants working 100 percent of the time, the county would have to deplete a large chunk of its fund balance. Cutting hours allows TAs to keep their jobs while enabling the county to avoid gutting its savings.

State lawmakers enacted a budget this summer that cuts teacher assistant funding by 22 percent, according to N.C. Department of Instruction CFO Philip Price.

That cut comes on top of years of funding cuts to TAs. In Scotland County last year, the district had to eliminate 44 teacher assistant positions, which included 25 layoffs.

Earlier this summer, Gov. Pat McCrory pushed back hard on Senate lawmakers’ wish to gut funding for teacher assistants, insisting he wouldn’t sign a budget that slashes TA jobs.

In the end, McCrory signed the budget last week and said he was happy to do it because it preserves all TA positions — yet many local districts are already reporting that they must cut teacher assistant jobs thanks to the budget he signed.

But just days after the budget was signed into law, I reported that McCrory is working with the school superintendents’ association to come up with a budget fix that would allow school districts to hold onto their TAs (see my story here).

Scotland County is coping with other education cuts handed down to them by the state lawmakers, which include:

  • $40,000 cut in state funding for at-risk students;
  • $38,000 cut in state funding for digital learning; and
  • $117,000 cut in state funding for driver’s education