Schools plead for funds

Published 8:44 pm Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Staff. wire report

DURHAM — More than two-dozen North Carolina school-system superintendents gathered Tuesday and decried years of budget cuts to education, warning classrooms keep growing and trouble lies ahead unless the N.C. General Assembly provides more funding.

The State Board of Education held a public meeting Tuesday to hear from the superintendents.

They pounded home a message that years of state cuts forced by the recession will get drastic in the next school year. That’s when the last of the federal stimulus money that has kept thousands of teachers and assistants in the classroom dries up.

“The residual effects of cuts are becoming more and more debilitating,” said Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Don Phipps.

Phipps was one of three public-school superintendents who represented 17 counties from northeastern North Carolina at the meeting and led off the review of the cuts.

Phipps’ comments and the meeting were broadcast live over the Internet by WRAL, a Raleigh television station.

Phipps told the panel that Beaufort County’s public schools had been particularly hurt by more than $827,522 in cuts to low-wealth funds since 2008, and he said cuts in federal and state funds had put pressure on county governments to make up for the loss at a time when those governments were hard pressed to do so.

At a meeting Monday, a committee of Beaufort County Board of Education members who oversee BCS’s buildings, grounds and finances were told that the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners would need to increase its appropriations to Beaufort County’s public schools by $431,484 for the 2012-2013 fiscal year to avoid cuts in teacher supplements and the loss of as many as 39 teacher assistants during the coming school year.

Phipps has predicted that Beaufort County Schools will see a decrease of about $2.56 million in its 2012-2013 operating budget as a result of state funding cuts and the loss of federal funds allocated to schools under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

School leaders have considered several measures to make up for the shortfall, including cuts in supply budgets, staggered starts for some of the county’s schools and changes in the athletics programs at the county’s middle schools.

Tuesday’s state school board meeting also featured a pitch by Gov. Beverly Perdue for her solution: a statewide sales-tax increase of three-quarters of a cent.

“I am hopeful, I’m prayerful that the people of North Carolina will sit up and listen and go to the mat for the kids of this state and their teachers,” Perdue said.

Perdue is trying to generate public support for a tax increase, which must be approved by anti-tax legislators in the Republican-run General Assembly. She argued North Carolina’s economic conversion from a poor, low-wage state into one of the country’s biggest hubs for knowledge industries has always depended on state funding for education.

A Republican legislative leader vowed there’s no way lawmakers will increase the sales tax.

“It’s not going to happen,” said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, a budget writer and vice chairman of the Senate’s education committee.

Earlier Tuesday, Perdue said she also planned to include teacher pay raises in her proposed budget for next year. She wouldn’t provide details when asked if she would seek permanent raises or offer one-time bonuses. The state’s public-school teachers haven’t received a pay raise since the 2008-09 fiscal year, but Perdue later that fiscal year required a 0.5-percent pay cut to make up for a budget shortfall.