Politics slowing down budget approval

Politics may be at the root of a slow budget approval.

On Thursday, concerned parents, students and teachers gathered in the gym at Fred T. Foard High School to listen to Catawba County Schools Superintendent Glenn Barger explain the budget process and what he hopes the numbers will look like for the 2011-12 school year.

"This is the first time in history that the General Assembly changed to a Republican party in both houses," Barger said. "There is a strong voice coming out of the newly elected representatives."

Barger told the many people in attendance that the General Assembly is preparing a two-year budget, which he explained might have a hinderance on the approval of the budget. By law, the legislature has to pass a budget by June 30, and school starts Aug. 25.

"Because of politics, we aren't close to having a budget for the 2011-12 school year, nor is any other department," Barger said.

To prepare for this year's budget, Barger said Gov. Beverly Perdue asked every state agency to create a budget with a 5 percent reduction and another with 10 percent cutbacks. However, Perdue said she was not going to pass a budget that cut teacher and teacher assistant positions.

"Perdue said she would veto any budget bill that cut a single teacher or teacher assistant position on it," Barger said.

Barger explained that while teacher and teacher assistant positions don't seem to be affected at this time, a lot of other important areas were cut from the education budget. Some of these areas include bus maintenance and insurance and unemployment and workers' compensation benefits.

Speculation about the budget process is that the House is cutting less in the K-12 budget, while giving more reductions to the universities and community colleges. However, other discussions hint the Senate's desire to give more cutbacks to K-12 than higher-education programs.

"Here's what that means for us," Barger said. "In August, we will have 17,000-plus students knocking on our doors. They are not concerned about the budget. They expect the very best educational opportunity for the world they live in. We can guarantee that every youngster that walks through our doors will be safe and have the best educational opportunity we can give."

Technology is another area where cutbacks are possible. Barger said he fears reductions in technology will limit students and not prepare them for a college education or a high-tech career.

"Teachers must have technology because that's the world we are living in," he said. "We can't go back to chalk and a chalkboard. We are going
to have to have our resources."

Other than fears of technology loss, Barger questions whether teachers want to remain in a system where they aren't getting pay raises and their health insurance is in jeopardy.

"This is the third year teachers have gone with no salary increase," he said. "Their salaries were never close to the top (paid). How long can they continue to go without a salary increase?"

Barger said he and the Board of Education want to avoid classroom cuts, which includes fine arts. He said the school system has "no plans to eliminate any of (the arts) programs."

Fred T. Foard principal Sally Bradshaw said she hopes the school system will continue to make "leaps and bounds" to prepare students for a bright future.

"First and foremost, we are concerned with what happens in the classrooms," Bradshaw said. "Education is well-rounded."

Bradshaw added that with previous economic support, Foard students were able to go to state and national contests for academics and athletics, which she wants to continue.

"(Barger) has the experience to make the right choice and put the right people in place to make good, solid decisions," she said.

Barger also reassured the public that CCS has no plans to close schools, as other neighboring counties did recently.

Dr. Jeff Isenhour, principal at Jacobs Fork Middle School, said his school, along with others, have been cutting back on expenses for the past two years.

"We have been very conservative with how we operate," Isenhour said. "I hope we are able to maintain more than an adequate amount of teachers and teacher assistants across the board."

With politics taking control of the school's next budget, Barger hopes Catawba County will not digress in its educational efforts.

"Don't let us take that giant step backward," he said. "Instead of racing to the top, we'll be racing to the bottom."