As Governor Bev Perdue, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled General Assembly do battle over the budget in Raleigh, Anson County Schools leadership waits to find out what implications the 2012-13 budget will have on students locally.
“We’re definitely impacted,” Superintendent Dr. Greg Firn said. “We have fewer teachers, fewer teacher assistants, fewer custodial staff, because of the budget cuts made by the General Assembly last year.”
Last week, after Gov. Perdue submitted her proposed budget, her office sent a press release to The Anson Record, stating that if approved, her budget would bring an additional $1,261,720 for K-12 schools in Anson County in 2012-13.
According to the press release, last year’s budget, which was passed overriding Gov. Perdue’s veto, the General Assembly cut K-12 spending in North Carolina by approximately $459 million, or 5.8 percent. After the General Assembly’s cuts, local schools were forced to eliminate 915 teachers, more than 2,000 teacher assistants, and nearly 5,000 total educators across North Carolina.
“We haven’t had to lay anyone off,” Firn said. “But we haven’t filled positions that were left vacant when people left for another job or retired. That has hurt us. We haven’t been able to do music or art or elective courses on a consistent basis.”
The saving grace for North Carolina’s schools, has been federal “EduJobs” funding. This money has enabled North Carolina schools to keep some of the teachers, teacher assistants and other education professionals that would otherwise have been cut. Anson County received $872,625 in federal EduJobs money during this school year. However, that funding is scheduled to go away later this year.
In addition, the legislature’s proposed budget, presented on Thursday, includes more cuts to education, including $170 million cuts in local schools, rejection of Perdue’s plan to reduce class size in grades K-3, no plans to expand the state’s Pre-K program and no funding for Smart Start programs.
“We are so thin right now in many critical areas,” Firn said, “and most school systems are preparing for what has been called by some a tsunami of cuts coming.”
Already, class sizes in Anson County are the largest they’ve ever been. “Grades 4-12 have all had significant increases in student-teacher ratios,” Firn explained. “In some cases, the student-teacher ratio has increased from 20 to 28. It’s going to be tight for several years, even if the governor’s budget is approved.”
If the governor’s budget were to pass the legislature, Firn said the school system will no longer have to reduce some positions or services. But, he also said Anson schools are heavily dependent upon Title 1 Funds, which provide direct services to children. That funding is scheduled to decrease by 8 percent on Jan. 1, 2013.
“We have to provide these services, like special education,” he said. “They are mandated by law. So if the funding isn’t there, it will mean we’ll have to shrink services for non-special ed students. We could see reductions in our AIG program, in art, music, electives… for many students, these programs are a motivation to excel. It hurts our kids more than it does in other areas. It’s a tough situation.”
The budget battles in Raleigh and in Washington, D.C., are “a double-edged sword” for the school system, Firn said. “We desperately need funding but we’re still going to do everything in our power to provide the services for our kids that they need. The folks who get hurt the worst by all this, obviously, are our students.”