Local Teacher: “(We Won’t Have) The Personnel We Need”

Photo by Illustrative

CHAPEL HILL – One local teacher says your schools’ classrooms are filling up with students, but state budget cuts are reducing teacher’s assistants and still aren’t giving raises.

“You can imagine having 40 or 50 kids in a classroom and not having a teacher’s assistant, not having the personnel that we need,” Hennessee says.

Chuck Hennessee is the president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Association of Educators and a teacher at Culbreth Middle School. He says one of the immediate concerns for teachers is the combination of $120 million in cuts for teacher’s assistants and raises in maximum class size.

The proposed cuts are one of the main focuses of the next Moral Mondays protest.

Hennessee says he is also concerned by the money being put into vouchers for private and charter schools. He says that this will lead to taxpayer money going to fund all private education, like it does for charter schools.

“It’s been hidden behind ‘We’re going to give these vouchers to lower income people,’” Hennessee says. “But what eventually results from that is the lowest income people in the state end up paying the taxes to compensate and pay those vouchers for anybody.”

Hennessee also says that vouchers require people to pay for the schooling first and then get the tax break later, so many lower income people will not be able to pay the upfront costs.

Hennessee is especially critical of charter schools, which use public funds but are not regulated by the state’s department of education. He says the necessary paperwork to maintain the school is “minimal” and teachers do not need to be certified.

“Based on the new school laws, monies from the public schools’ football program, the drama program, the band program can be shared now with the schools,” Hennessee says. “Even lunch and transportation funds, when the charter schools don’t have to provide lunch or transportation.”

Included along with cuts in the state budget is an end to tenure for K-12 public school teachers, which Hennessee says means the end of teachers being able to argue their case in the face of a firing.

“Teachers don’t have tenure. We can be fired for any number of 11 different things, least among them is insubordination,” Hennessee says. “What we do have is a right to due process.”

CHCCS Schools has a fund balance to make up for the education cuts at the state level. Hennessee adds that this fund balance will only cover for this year and the school system will have a $2 million deficit next year.


Horace Williams To Remain Open, For Now

CHAPEL HILL – Your local airport isn’t closing, at least not yet.

Horace Williams Airport is not going to close, in spite of the media attention that was given to an item that was inserted as a rider in the budget bill that called for it to close on August 1.

The consensus in the legislature is that the item was placed in the house budget bill as a bargaining chip with Senate Rule Chairman Tom Apodaca, who has a reputation as a strong defender of the UNC airport.

There is currently no scheduled date for the closure of the airport.  UNC plans to close it to make room for Carolina North, which has seen a delayed start because of lack of funding.


Education Panel Talks About Effects Of Budget Cuts

Photo by Doug Wilson.

CHAPEL HILL – On Monday, three members from your local school district came together to talk about the newly released budget proposal that’s likely to be approved.

The panelists from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro system included Director of Student Equity, Graig Meyer, Former Teacher for East Chapel Hill High, Jennifer Colletti, and Assistant Superintendent for Support Services, Todd LoFrese.

***Listen to the Full Discussion***

Colletti said its not a black and white issue when talking about budget cuts.

“State budget cuts year after year, yes they impact teacher pay and that’s a huge thing, obviously we all get and go to work every day to pay our bills and feed ourselves, etcetera, but it impacts every other element of the teaching profession as well” Colletti said.

The new budget for North Carolina schools made cuts to teacher’s assistants, eliminated tenure, increased the cap on class size, and didn’t raise teacher’s salaries for another year.

Colletti taught for East Chapel Hill High for four years, never receiving a raise.  She found a better paying job working for a company based in the area.

“It was shocking because I was offered a starting salary in this position that I would not have earned if I had taught in the district for 38 years,” Colletti said. “There was no way I would have earned what they wanted to offer me at a non-profit institution.” 

North Carolina teachers now rank 48th for pay in the country.  Five years ago North Carolina ranked 26th, but since teachers have not received raises the past few years, they quickly fell behind.  LoFrese said the hiring process is not getting any easier.

“It’s getting harder and harder to recruit teachers to North Carolina or to get teachers within North Carolina, potential teachers, to take these positions because of what’s happening with pay and salary” LoFrese said.

The schools in North Carolina were informed that there may be budget cuts and to plan their budget for the upcoming year accordingly.  LoFrese said that although they planned for the cuts, the bill called for cuts similar to the Senate’s original plan rather than the House bill that had fewer cuts.

“Well we’ve been looking at the budget, both the Senate version, which was originally released back in the spring, and then the House version that came out, which in our opinion was a lot better than the Senate version, but what they released last night looks a lot closer to the Senate” said LoFrese.

The budget for TA’s in the area received a $1.1 million cut; the schools only budgeted to lose about 870,000 meaning that some TA’s will be fired: 3,800 across the state. Along with the TA’s, the school is losing funding for supplies and will lose three positions related to counseling and disability.

Meyer said in the end, there’s no other option, but it’s going to be detrimental to the children.

“That’s all you can cut, you can’t cut a bus route because you still have to run buses all over town; you can’t cut a cafeteria because you still have provide lunches in that cafeteria; you end up cutting things that directly help individual kids,” Meyer said.

The budget cuts to North Carolina schools were announced earlier this week and have many provisions that affect the schools in the area.


Local Representatives Criticize State Budget

CHAPEL HILL – Over the weekend, your state’s House and Senate leaders met to reconcile the differences between their two budget proposals. Now with a settled budget that both House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger seem happy about, passage looks likely.

But Representative Verla Insko, who represents OrangeCounty in the General Assembly, says she opposes the new budget and feels its cuts will end up costing North Carolinians more in the future.

“I just disagree with the philosophy of austerity during a recession,” Insko says. “I think stimulus makes a lot more sense.”

Among the items in the budget are a reduction in sales tax-free periods and cuts to the estate tax, corporate tax and a new income tax that would put all citizens, regardless of income level, at the same tax rate.

“There’s very little evidence, some would say no evidence, that cutting taxes for the wealthiest people actually produces any new jobs,” Insko says. “What produces new jobs is having the middle class have enough money to be able to purchase goods and services.”

State Senator Ellie Kinnaird also opposes the budget, criticizing its cuts to public sector employees.

“There’s a particularly sensitive group, the Highway Patrol, that had been promised over the years that they would have a certain percentage of pay raise every year no matter what,” Kinnaird says. “And they’ve just gone back on that.”

Insko especially criticizes cuts to child and adult service programs, namely those that deal with mental health care. She says she feels these cuts are not only unnecessary, but that it cuts more than it lets on.

“There’s a hidden $20 million cut to mental health in this budget because last year, they made a $20 million appropriation non-recurring and they didn’t fund that this year, so there’s really a $35 million cut to mental health,” Insko says.

While the state budget gives additional funding to voucher programs to help low-income families pay for private or charters schools, it also eliminates teacher tenure. Insko says that tenure should have been “tinkered with,” but not done away with altogether.

“Teachers don’t make a whole lot anyway, and job security was one of the things that allowed us to keep people who could make a lot more money in another job,” Insko says.

Kinnaird even speaks out against the funding for vouchers and says they are part of a larger goal in the state’s budget.

“Because they’ve instituted a voucher plan for private schools, that reduces the average daily funds going to the public schools,” Kinnaird says. “It’s a concerted effort to really, I think, destroy our public schools.”

While Kinnaird says that she was surprised by the “boldness” of the General Assembly’s budget, she says the individual provisions themselves were all expected.

“We’ve known, right at the beginning, what they were going to target,” Kinnaird says. “There’s nothing there that’s a surprise to me.”

Insko and Kinnaird did add that they were happy to see compensation for victims of the state’s eugenics program. Insko was one of the co-sponsors of legislation in the House to authorize compensation for the victims.


GOP Leaders Agree On $20.6 Billion NC Budget

Story by Michael Biesecker; photo by Angie Newsome

RALEIGH — Leaders in the North Carolina House and Senate announced Sunday that they have reached agreement on a $20.6 billion budget that will end teacher tenure and allow taxpayer money to be spent for private school tuition.

Highlights of the budget negotiated by the Republican majority were issued in a news release. The actual appropriations bill was not expected to be made available to the public until late Sunday night.

Both chambers have previously passed their own spending plans, but Republican leaders wrangled for weeks to come to a consensus even as the July 1 start of the 2013-2014 fiscal year came and went.

Republicans took over the General Assembly in 2010 for the first time in more than a century, but did not cement full control of state government until GOP Gov. Pat McCrorytook office in January.

Lawmakers are expected to vote on the compromise budget in the coming week.

The budget increases overall state spending by 2.5 percent while instituting tax cuts for corporations and individuals. The plan scraps the longstanding teacher tenure system in favor of employing educators on contracts that are renewed based on performance reviews. The budget would also allow families that meet income guidelines to get state money to pay private school tuition starting in 2014.

“Republicans in the General Assembly have produced a state budget that reduces taxes and right-sizes state government,” said House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg), according to the release. “This budget is another crucial step in putting North Carolina’s fiscal house in order.”

State spending on Medicaid is increased by $1.5 billion to cover what Republicans term as cost overruns. A special provision would allow the McCrory administration to develop a Medicaid reform plan in the coming months.

The budget also supports McCrory’s plan for overhauling the North Carolina Highway Trust Fund, which prioritizes and pays for transportation infrastructure projects over the next 10 years.

The plan restores funding that had been previously cut for 69 positions within the State Highway Patrol, as well as another 22 magistrates and 175 probation and parole officers.

The budget meets the state’s obligation to fund the state retirement system and state health plan, while providing state employees with 5 additional days of leave. The release makes no mention of any raise for state employees, whose salaries have remained largely stagnant for years.

The release also said living victims of a state-sponsored eugenics program that ended in the 1970s will receive a one-time compensation payment, but it did not say how much that payment will be.

North Carolina forcibly sterilized about 7,600 people who the state deemed feeble-minded or otherwise undesirable between 1929 and 1974. Some of the victims were as young as 10 and chosen because they were promiscuous or did not get along with their schoolmates.

While many states had similar eugenics programs, most of them were abandoned after the practice was associated with the Nazis after World War II. But North Carolina actually expanded its program after the war.

A group set up to help North Carolina victims estimated up to 1,800 were still living last year, though it had only verified 146 of them.

The Legislature has debated whether to compensate eugenics victims for years, but the proposal didn’t gain much traction until 2012. A bill to pay each victim $50,000 passed the House with the support of then-Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue and Speaker Tillis, but stalled in the Senate.

The budget also eliminates state funding for the nonprofit Rural Economic Development Center, which was stung by a negative audit last week, triggering the resignation of its long-time president. In its place, the legislature is creating a new division within the N.C. Department of Commerce to focus on improving services to the state’s rural counties.

“Together, members of the House and Senate have carefully crafted a plan that smartly invests in key priorities like education and public safety while fulfilling our shared commitment to fiscal responsibility and accountability in state government,” said Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), according to the release.

Alexandra Forter Sirota, the budget and tax director at the left-leaning N.C. Justice Center, saw it differently.

“Lawmakers chose to drain available revenues by $524 million over the next two years through an ill-advised series of tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations,” Sirota said in a statement issued Sunday by the advocacy group. “This revenue loss isn’t just a number on a piece of paper — it means fewer teachers in more crowded classrooms, higher tuition rates and elevated debt load for families, scarcer economic development opportunities for distressed communities and longer waiting lists for senior services.”


CHCCS Will Discuss Budget Plans Monday

CHAPEL HILL – Chapel Hill-Carrboro school leaders are still waiting on a final state budget before signing off on next year’s spending plan. The school board meets Monday night in a special session to discuss the district’s budget plans in light of proposed state funding cuts.

Last month county commissioners agreed to increase school funding and raise the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district tax to generate more revenue for the school system.

But both the house and state budget proposals call for cuts to funding for teachers assistants, leaving school administrators struggling to trim the local budget to fill in the gaps.

The school board will consider new proposals to delay technology upgrades, hold off on adding a new class for children with special needs, and forgo a one-time bonus to staff members.

However, not all of the proposals are spending cuts. The board will consider allocating additional funding to the dual language program and the Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate Program, as well as possibly charging a fee for drivers education.

While the school board plans to adopt a final budget on July 18, that could be delayed if legislators are still haggling over the state budget later this month.

The school board meets at 7:00 p.m. Monday at the Lincoln Center on South Merritt Mill Road.


At End of Fiscal Year, N.C. Budget Still Not Passed

RALEIGH – July 1, the beginning of the 2013-2014 fiscal year, came and went without the General Assembly passing the state’s budget.

While both the House and the Senate have passed their own versions of North Carolina’s budget, the two bodies did not reconcile the differences between the two budgets in time to reach Governor Pat McCrory’s desk.

In order to keep the state funded while final budget decisions are being made, state legislators passed a stop-gap measure last Tuesday that will keep state functions funded until July 31.

Part of the stop-gap’s provisions requires that spending be five percent less than what was already approved for the fiscal year.

House and Senate leaders are negotiating to compromise on differences between the two bills, namely tax reform and education.

The Senate has deeper cuts to taxes than the House’s proposed budget, with the Senate’s budget raising $384 million less in revenue than the House’s budget, which raises $300 million less than would be raised over a two-year period under current tax levels.

On the tax issue, both legislative houses have also faced some pushback from Gov. McCrory, who has urged the General Assembly that any tax reform plans should still raise enough revenue to adequately fund the state.


Legislature OKs NC Stop-Gap State Spending Plan

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – The General Assembly has made quick work of approving contingency plans for North Carolina government given there’s no state budget with less than a week before the fiscal year ends.

The Senate and House approved Tuesday a stop-gap spending measure that would keep funding government operations through July as budget talks continue. The measure now goes to Gov. Pat McCrory‘s desk for his signature.

The proposal is needed because legislative leaders haven’t yet negotiated a final budget for the next two years. They’re trying to first reach a deal on a tax overhaul.

Tuesday’s measure directs state agencies on how much they can spend in the meantime. It also tells the state budget office to find $45 million in savings to pay for an even larger Medicaid shortfall this year.


BOCC Budget: More For Schools and Public Safety

CHAPEL HILL- For the fifth year in a row, Orange County Commissioners approved a budget that does not include a countywide property tax rate increase.

The $187 million dollar spending plan adopted on Tuesday increases school funding by $102 dollars per pupil and raises the Chapel Hill-Carrboro special district tax by two cents to help open the new Northside Elementary.

With $91 million dollars going to the county’s two school districts, County Manager Frank Clifton said it’s clear where the board’s priorities lie.

“Nobody can question that our number one priority is education,” said Clifton. “If you compare Orange County to the majority of counties in our state […] you won’t find anyone that comes close.”

Clifton also commended commissioners for their commitment to improving the county’s emergency response times by allocating funding for EMS equipment, technology upgrades and new personnel.

“This board has stepped up in the matter of public safety like no other board in the county’s past history,” said Clifton. “I think the good news is that the people of Orange County will see a much better response from the county going forward.”

The board also approved a five-year Capital Investment Plan that includes money for a science wing at Culbreth Middle School, an auxiliary gym at Cedar Ridge High School, and renovations to the Whitted building to create a meeting space for local governments.

With the final budget formally adopted, the board of commissioners will go on hiatus for the summer and resume regular meetings in September.


Commissioners To Approve 2013-14 Budget, Capital Investment Plan

ORANGE COUNTY – County Commissioners will sign off on a new budget and five year capital investment plan when the board meets Tuesday.

After weeks of negotiation and public hearings that drew dozens of residents to plead for more school funding, commissioners will finalize a spending plan that maintains the current property tax rate while digging into reserve funds to give more money to schools.

The budget also calls for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro special district tax rate to increase by two cents to provide $ 2 million dollars to open the new Northside Elementary.

The plan includes money for new EMS personnel and technology upgrades, and sets aside a quarter of a million dollars for the Social Justice Fund, designed to lessen the impact of state cuts to social programs.

The board meets at 7:00 p.m. in the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road.