Under pressure from their constituents to increase the salaries of North Carolina's school teachers, which currently rank near the bottom nationally, the Republican leadership in Raleigh has pledged to come up with raises for teachers in FY2015. Both Governor Pat McCrory and the NC Senate have produced budgets that do just that.
But the devil is always in the details, as Mike Griffin, Moore County Schools Director of Budget, explained to the Board of Education during their Monday, June 2 meeting.
"Any time there are initiatives funded in a budget, you always want to know where they are getting the funding to do that," Griffin told the Board.
Senate budget cuts MCS by $2.7 million
The budget approved by the NC Senate just after midnight on Saturday, May 31, could cost Moore County $2.7 million, Griffin said. That's more than the increase in local funding the school district sought from the county for FY2015. The district's total budget for FY2015 is $106 million; that includes anticipated state funding of $64 million, a total that does not include the Senate's newly-proposed cuts.
The Senate budget would save money primarily by doing away with teaching assistants in second and third grade classrooms. That would eliminate 65 teacher assistants in Moore County and cost the district $1.9 million in funding, Griffin said. In addition, 6.5 classroom teaching positions would be lost, increasing class sizes in grades two and three.
The Senate budget would completely defund MCS' drivers education program, a $230,000 cut that would likely shift the cost of driver training onto individual families.
Griffin pointed out that state funding for drivers ed had been cut from $280,000 to $230,000 in this year's budget, resulting in a $55 charge for each family taking advantage of the program. The elimination of state funding would raise the cost to $250 per student, Griffin said, or drivers ed "would become totally privatized."
Additional cuts in the Senate budget include $257,000 from the transportation budget and $45,000 to the central office.
"This is a dramatic, dramatic impact on our budget, if this goes forward," Griffin said.
The Senate's budget uses those cuts to provide an average eleven percent increase in teacher's pay, though that raise is contingent upon teachers agreeing to give up tenure.
Governor's budget redirects lottery funds
Governor McCrory's budget funds more modest raises for teachers, as well as additional money for textbooks.
Beginning teachers would see a 7.1 percent increase, while raises would range from 2.0 percent to 4.3 percent further up the salary scale. Principals and assistant principals would see a 2.0 percent increase.
Textbook funding would be doubled from last year's budget, an additional $23 million.
But some of the cash to pay for those increases would be drawn from NC Education Lottery proceeds, which, Griffin pointed out, are supposed to be used to reduce class size, support pre-kindergarten programs, provide college scholarships, and fund construction and capital project funds.
"When those funds are redirected, we cannot use those funds for those items, because they have been used for something else," Griffin said.
Moore County's Commissioners, along with county officials from across the state, are pressuring state representatives to approve a bill that would restore the percentage of lottery funds reserved for school districts to the full forty percent initially approved by the voters.
The Governor's budget also sticks a camel's nose under the local funding tent, shifting the cost of workers' compensation for state-funded employees, along with bus liability claims, to local taxpayers.
"These have historically always been funded by the state," Griffin said. "This is a small item in the upcoming budget. This is a significant potential liability for the future, if this starts to shift to local taxpayers . . . this is a door that does not need to open."
Griffin said the governor's budget would cut about $178,000 — or the equivalent of about six positions — in funding for teacher assistants in Moore County, as well as $50,000 in transportation funding, a sum that would, in effect, be shifted onto local taxpayers.
The NC House has yet to approve a proposed budget for FY2015. Griffin promised the school board an update when that document becomes available.