Unfair balancing act

Published 11:42 am Sunday, November 23, 2008

By Staff
It is hard enough on school systems when the economy goes bad. It is even harder on those school systems when some of the money they were allocated is taken back from the allocating source.
That is what is happening to the 115 school systems in North Carolina. This week, those school systems learned they must return a collective $58 million to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. That action was taken to help ease the Old North State’s state government shortfall.
That means Beaufort County’s school system will be returning $282,450, according to Beaufort County School’s spokeswoman Sarah Hodges. The school system has yet to determine from which of its pockets that money will be taken so it can be returned to the Department of Public Instruction.
The amount of money each school system returns is based on that school system’s student population. Statewide, that works out to about $39 per student.
It is a shame that state government is using the backs of school children to help shoulder the burden of overcoming that shortfall.
According to a report by The Associated Press, Gov. Mike Easley’s budget office has assembled a plan to find up to $1.2 billion to overcome the shortfall. The governor chose not to make public school reductions mandatory, but the Department of Public Instruction said it could find up to $117 million to help erase the shortfall.
Money from the Department of Public Instruction pays for teachers’ salaries and instructional supplies such as textbooks. It is not unusual for school systems to return unused money at the end of each school year.
Instead of taking money away from school systems, state government leaders should be finding ways to send those school systems more money. That can be done by eliminating wasteful spending.
Is the Department of Public Instruction’s offices in Raleigh having to send back some of the money allocated to them? If students must suffer from reduced funding, then so should the — to use a term favored by Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson — bureaucrats in Raleigh. If state government is serious about dealing with the budget shortfall, perhaps it should start by eliminating spending on some things not really necessary to running an efficient state government, say a bureaucrat or two at the Department of Public Instruction.
Seriously, the General Assembly, Council of State and governor (outgoing or incoming) should be focused on doing what it takes to increase revenues, cut wasteful spending and making sure the state gets the biggest bang possible for the bucks it does spend. That’s going to require something happen other than the status quo. Get the hint, governor-elect Bev Perdue?
In other words, government leaders, do your jobs.
Some folks, especially certain folks in Raleigh, will say the school systems must make sacrifices similar to those being made by other state-government entities. They are wrong. The state should not try to balance its budget on the backs of students. Maybe the state could do with less standardized-test graders and more teachers in the classroom.
Perhaps the folks at the Department of Public Instruction could use some instruction when it comes to overcoming a budget shortfall. Reduce expenses in areas that do not affect students’ education. Ask some school principals for advice on cutting costs. They have lots of experience on working with shoestring budgets. They will have even more such experience after their school systems return $58 million to the state.
That’s a lesson they and their students should not be forced to learn.