By LaDonna Beeker
I’ve been attending Champions of Education meetings for almost two years now, and Wednesday’s meeting ranked as the top, in my opinion.
Catawba County’s three school system superintendents stood in front of about 100 community and business leaders to address state budget concerns — only hours before the N.C. Senate voted to override Gov. Beverly Perdue’s weekend veto.
The 2011-13 state budget will take about $11 million from Catawba County’s schools, which in turn removes money from the education of the region’s future generation of business leaders.
After Wednesday’s meeting, some area government officials and employees made remarks about the meeting being “too political” in regards to comments made by superintendents.
A power point presentation filled with numbers was factually presented by school officials, who have been moving numbers around for months, trying to make the best decision for county schools.
It’s like Catawba County Schools Superintendent Glenn Barger said, “It’s not about the politics; it’s about the children.” That quote might sound cliché to some readers, but it is reality. The more money taken from schools, the more teachers and children have to find an alternate way of performing and learning when they are use to having access to everyday technology, such as power point presentations.
When I arrived at the COE meeting Wednesday morning, sitting in front of me was a small piece of yellow chalk. At the front of the room, was an old small chalk board on wheels. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I saw either instructional tool. And on the other hand, I didn’t even want to touch the chalk because I remember the mess it made when I used it during my early school days.
Today’s students are given dry-erase markers and other pieces of technology, like Mimio pens. It’s this type of technology that is on the chopping block if North Carolina’s General Assembly keeps sending our schools “down a road to bankruptcy.”
I usually shy away from voicing my opinion when it comes to things closely related to politics, but in this case, this is the future of Catawba County. Our children are all we have to sustain a reliable outlook in Catawba County, North Carolina and in the nation.
North Carolina’s largest budget portion goes to public education. I realize that it’s impossible for the state to avoid cutting from public education when the legislature is facing cutbacks. However, I do think it’s possible for our elected officials on the state level to review details and provide an educational, researched decision for school budgets.
In turn, county schools get 63 percent of their budget from the state. In Catawba County school systems, $164 million is spent on direct instruction; $30 million is spent on direct support; and $6 million is spent on administration.
As Hickory Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Lillie Cox pointed out during Wednesday’s meeting, the N.C. lottery funds give 3.9 percent to the county schools’ budget. In addition to that, Cox explained that those funds are designated to go to certain areas, such as More at Four teachers, scholarships, school construction and K-3 teachers. In addition, Race to the Top funds total $400 million during four years and are also allocated for certain areas in schools.
Based on information provided by the county’s superintendents, control was also taken away from school officials when it came to removing items per line in budgets. Newton-Conover City Schools Superintendent Dr. Barry Redmond said state officials tell their budget story as if no teacher and teacher assistant positions were going to be taken away for the 2011-13 budget. That’s not the “whole story,” he said.
Redmond said state officials may not have cut the positions, but they left superintendents no choice except to eliminate positions.
Creating a budget is not an easy thing to do, whether you are creating a state or local budget. It is never easy telling individuals they have to leave their position because funds are no longer available to support them. I don’t claim to be a financial expert, nor have I ever been involved in the creation of such a large budget.
What I do know is that the more cutbacks that are made to public education, the more our students, teachers and parents will feel the tug to have to choose between providing the best education possible or having to settle and risk students losing what Catawba County has tried so hard to build up.
Even though the state budget is approved and set forth for the 2011-12 school year, it’s not too late to express concerns to our elected state officials, and it’s not too late for business leaders in Catawba County to help area schools and teachers financially.
Speak out for education because it’s our future. With a lot of community comments, maybe the next time state legislators sit down to create a budget, they’ll rethink severe cutbacks to education.
LaDonna Beeker is editor of The Observer News Enterprise. Her column appears in the Friday edition. Reach Beeker at email@example.com .