Now that our schools in western North Carolina are underway, it is time to take a look at the devastating impact of the Republican-led state budget on public education in our region. It is also important that a challenge be rendered to the rhetoric advocated by the Republican leadership and particularly by the State Senator from this district, Jim Davis.
Contrary to the statements presented by Sen. Davis, the state budget for 2011-12 did not fully fund classroom teachers and teacher assistants. To prevent having to select which cuts to be made in a school system, the General Assembly instead required each system to return to the state a significant percentage of their allocated operational resources ($428,000,000), better known as discretionary funds.
By this process, they actually placed the responsibility for making specific cuts on the shoulders of superintendents and local school boards. Since over 80% of education dollars are in people, this meant having to cut teachers, assistant principals, and support staffs or not replacing them as vacancies occur.
Macon County School system was required to return $1.25 million on top of $905,000 last year and $600,000 the year before. These were the very funds that assisted in paying for teachers, state/federal mandated programs, supplies, equipment and student transportation.
Jackson County returned $1.2 million; and, this summer, as teacher vacancies occurred, a number of those positions were not replaced, thus causing class sizes to be increased. In addition, two of its pre-school programs were shut down. Because student buses were not funded appropriately, bus routes had to be extended and students’ time on the road increased.
Clay County has had to return $400,000; and, because of required reversions to the state over the past three years, they have had to cut twenty-five positions. This year it meant the loss of assistant principals and four teachers – one in art, one in the alternative school, and two teacher assistants. They now have only a half-time assistant superintendent and a half-time technology coordinator.
In each of the above counties, if it had not been for the Obama stimulus package and the wise judgment of our county commissioners and school boards to place funds into reserve, this school year’s challenges would be even more dramatic. Next school year, however, those reserves will have been depleted and even more drastic cuts will have to be made, causing a dilution of our children’s education and impacting their future.
All other counties across our state are experiencing similar challenges. Wake County Schools, for instance, was required to return $40 million dollars in discretionary funds. They released seventy custodians and cut the salaries of all their assistant teachers. As teacher vacancies occurred in Wayne County, they placed all their assistant principals into the classrooms as lead teachers.
As stated, it is absolutely time to correct the misleading rhetoric championed by Sen. Davis and by the local Tea Party faithful.
Ben J. Utley, Chairman
Macon County Democratic Party — Franklin, N.C.