$11M taken from schools

North Carolina's 2011-12 budget will take away about $11 million from Catawba County's three school systems, creating a fearful future for school officials and area children.

"This budget sets us on a road to bankruptcy," said Catawba County Schools Superintendent Glenn Barger.

Budget cuts in public education spending will take a total of $4.7 million from Catawba County's three school systems. Discretionary funds from school systems also have to be paid back to the state, which makes the number climb to $10.9 million lost in public funding.

The county's three superintendents agreed that while this year's state budget comes with severe cuts, the officials are "fearful" for next year because the "cushion" in each district's budget will be gone after this year.

Each school system has about $3 million, which helps provide funds for areas most needed, like technology. If technology funds continue to be cut, Barger said teachers might find themselves teaching with utensils deemed extinct several years ago — if they can find them.

"We had a hard time finding chalk and a chalkboard," Barger said during a Champions of Education meeting at Crowne Plaza on Wednesday.

Small pieces of chalk sat on tables set up in a banquet room at the Crowne Plaza, while a chalkboard faced community and business leaders from the front of the room.

"This is the technology that a teacher will be forced to use because there is no money for (new) technology," Barger continued.

With the realization that state budget cuts are creating a significant loss in public education funding, Barger pleaded to area business owners to step up and help local schools.

"I call on you this morning as champions," Barger said. "The issue isn't politics; it's about the children and how we want to educate the future of this state."

Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed the N.C. General Assembly's budget during the weekend. However, the N.C. House voted to override Perdue's veto Tuesday night, and the N.C. Senate did the same Wednesday afternoon.

The state budget cuts about $11 million from Catawba County students.

Area schools receive 63 percent of its funding from the state.

Seventeen percent comes from Catawba County and 16 percent is federal funding, which is based on free and reduced lunch qualifications and the number of exceptional children in a district.

In past years, school systems were allowed to deduct money per budget line items. However, Hickory Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Lillie Cox said the state isn't giving school systems that choice in the 2011-12 budget.

"In the current budget, we have no flexibility to move money," Cox said. "The line items are already cut down."

N.C. General Assembly leaders said the 2011-12 state budget shows responsible spending and "more for public classrooms."

“Final passage of this bipartisan budget signals a new, more responsible era in North Carolina state government – one in which legislators spend tax dollars wisely, fuel job creation in the private sector, and refuse to settle for average results in public education," said Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger. "Despite the governor’s frantic media campaign, apocalyptic rhetoric and creative accounting, the facts are clear: our $19.7 billion budget will do more for public classrooms and help the economy create more jobs than her own proposal.”

Newton-Conover City Schools Superintendent Dr. Barry Redmond said the state doesn't tell "the whole story," when it comes to teacher and teacher assistant cuts. Redmond explained that while the state budget doesn't specifically cut classroom positions, it forces a choice at the local level for school officials to make cutbacks.

"The state is quick to say they are not cutting teachers," Redmond said, "but they have discretionary money they need back."

The discretionary funds will add another $7 million to state budget cuts. That makes the total loss in public education $11.8 million for Catawba County. A budgeted reduction in class sizes for first through third grades creates about $960,172, in new savings, Redmond said, explaining the total cut for all three school systems is $10.9 million.

NCCS has to send back $852,000; CCS will send $5 million; and HPS will send $1.5 million to the state.

"We have to find the money to send back," Redmond said. "The state didn't want the blame (of letting teachers and teacher assistants go), so it was given to the superintendents."

In 2009-10, CCS cut 43.5 teachers and 69 teacher assistants. For the 2010-11 school year, CCS did not cut any classroom positions, but had to cut 7.5 percent from instructional materials funds, 12.5 percent from professional development and 5 percent from technology. CCS is currently Catawba County's largest employer.

For NCCS in the 2009-10 school year, it cut 12 teachers and two teacher assistants. In the 2010-11 school year, NCCS cut four teachers and three teacher assistants. NCCS Board of Education voted Monday to cut 14 teacher assistant positions because of budget reasons.

Despite the large amount of state cuts to public education, Catawba County's superintendents were grateful for the per pupil allocation staying the same from Catawba County Board of Commissioners. The current allocation is $1,433 per student, which totals $35 million for the county's three school systems.

"We need champions of education," Barger said. "We need voices of individuals, voices collectively and voices from other organizations to influences the voices in the General Assembly. Is this what we want for our children? It's time (the legislators) hear the message."