House Republicans Get Behind Budget Agreement

WASHINGTON — House Republicans are rallying behind a modest budget pact that promises to bring a temporary halt to budget brinkmanship in Washington and ease automatic budget cuts that would otherwise slam the Pentagon and domestic agencies for a second straight year.

President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats also are praising the measure negotiated with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who has morphed, however briefly, from an uncompromising small-government stalwart into a dealmaker eager to claim a partial victory on the budget.

The deal Ryan negotiated with Senate Democratic counterpart Patty Murray would preserve the bulk of tough agency spending cuts the GOP won in a 2011 showdown with Obama, while reducing the chances of a rerun of the partial government shutdown.

It’s set for a vote Thursday.

http://chapelboro.com/news/national/house-republicans-get-behind-budget-agreement/

GOP, Obama Line Up Behind Modest Budget Deal

WASHINGTON — Top Republicans and President Barack Obama are lining up behind a modest but hard-won bipartisan budget agreement that seeks to replace a portion of tough spending cuts facing the Pentagon and domestic agencies.

The deal to ease those cuts for two years is aimed less at chipping away at the nation’s $17 trillion national debt than it is at trying to help a dysfunctional Capitol stop lurching from crisis to crisis.

It would set the stage for action in January on a $1 trillion-plus spending bill for the current budget year.

The measure unveiled by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate counterpart Patty Murray of Washington blends $85 billion in spending cuts and fees to replace $63 billion in cuts to agency budgets over the coming two years.

http://chapelboro.com/news/national/gop-obama-line-behind-modest-budget-deal/

David Price Live at 8:30 a.m. — Budget Talks Continue In D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Budget talks continue in D.C. as another deadline approaches, and another deadline has been missed.

Congress had an informal deadline set for a week ago Monday to set the foundation for a budget deal that will help avoid another shutdown January 15, but no agreements were made. One of the lead budget negotiators, Maryland Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen, told the Washington Times that these discussions should be moving at a faster pace. Some members wanted the formal deadline December 2.

On October 1, a 16-day partial government shutdown began when an agreement on the debt limit—among other things—could not be reached as Republican and Democrat ideas didn’t align.

The half-month shutdown was halted when an extension to January 15 was made, but if a plan is not in place by that date, it all begins again.

U.S. Congressman David Price of North Carolina’s 4th District joins Ron Stutts on the WCHL Tuesday Morning News at 8:32 a.m. to discuss the progress of the talks in Washington.

Price is also currently active on the issue of the Iran interim nuclear agreement. He says he’s opposed to Congress imposing additional sanctions at this time. Tune in for his thoughts on that topic as well.

http://chapelboro.com/news/national/david-price-live-830-m-budget-talks-continue-d-c/

Senate Set To OK Budget Bill, But Fight Not Over

WASHINGTON – The Democratic-led Senate is ready to approve legislation averting a government shutdown Tuesday. But House Republican leaders are unwilling to accept the bill, ensuring that the nasty congressional squabble will spill into the weekend and possibly right up to the deadline – and maybe beyond.

The Senate scheduled votes today on the measure. Senators are expected to approve it after defeating a conservative effort to derail the bill and removing House-passed language stripping money from President Barack Obama’s health care law.

The battle has already produced plenty of drama, and not only between Democrats and Republicans.

After two conservative GOP senators blocked the Senate from completing its bill Thursday, Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said they were delaying that vote so their followers could watch Friday’s debate on TV.

http://chapelboro.com/news/national/senate-set-to-ok-budget-bill-but-fight-not-over/

UNC Strategic Plan Hurt By Budget Cuts

CHAPEL HILL – The University of North Carolina’s five-year Strategic Plan took a big hit with the approval of this year’s budget by the N.C. Legislature.

However, System President Tom Ross says the way in which the cuts were handed out will allow the individual campuses to protect its most vulnerable areas.

North Carolina saw a permanent funding reduction of $115 million and a $64 million net funding reduction. The cuts also include the elimination of all funding for UNC’s School of Medicine, as President Ross announced $15 million was allocated last year.

President Ross says the fact that enrollment increases and building improvements were approved as well as tuition hikes for out-of-state students being confined to undergraduates all helped the budget struggle.

To read President Ross’ statement released on the budget, click here.

http://chapelboro.com/news/unc/unc-strategic-plan-hurt-by-budget-cuts/

CHCCS Officials Already Worried About “Loss Of Jobs” In 2014

CHAPEL HILL – As your kids prepare to go back to school on Monday, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School officials say they’re preparing for another tough budget cycle in the coming year–and they say it’s not going to be pretty.

“If additional funding doesn’t come in from Raleigh, we’d need to find the equivalent of about 30 teacher positions within our current operations,” says CHCCS assistant superintendent Todd Lofrese. “(That) would likely mean loss of positions, loss of programs, perhaps loss of jobs.”

School officials are already sounding the alarm about 2014 because they say the district’s fund balance has dried up. CHCCS has used that balance for several years to help offset the effects of state-level budget cuts–but Lofrese says that isn’t an option anymore.

“We’ve reduced our budget by $8 million, and we’ve absorbed over $4 million in cost increases over the past five years,” he says. “It would’ve been even worse if we hadn’t utilized our fund balance to help buffer these reductions–(but) we’ve now used all of our available fund balance.”

And so, heading into the budget development process for 2014-15, Lofrese says “we’re beginning with what we estimate to be a $2.2 million hole.”

That $2.2 million represents the money the district pulled out of the fund balance this year to avoid having to cut teacher positions. Without it, Lofrese says they may have to cut 30 positions in 2014. Teacher assistant positions could also be at risk: Lofrese says the district lost state funding for 25 TAs, and managed to preserve those positions in 2013 only by dipping into its own pocket. (Should that come to pass, Lofrese says the district would seek to cut vacant positions first—but layoffs are not entirely off the table.)

And Lofrese says the situation would be even worse, were it not for the strong support the district receives from county government.

“We’re very fortunate (that) we live and work in a community that has strong support for public education,” he says. “Our county commissioners continue to demonstrate that by providing the district with $4 million in additional funding this year.”

Lofrese says that funding enabled the district to fully staff the new Northside Elementary School while preserving existing programs–and even managing to reduce class sizes in fourth and fifth grade. Future county-level funding will also allow the district to preserve a few of the 40 teacher positions cut at the state level, even without the fund balance.

But the specter of state-level cuts still looms—and while Republicans in the General Assembly insist that this year’s budget actually increased funding for K-12 education, Lofrese says that simply wasn’t the case in Chapel Hill-Carrboro.

“Even after accounting for the elimination of the discretionary reduction, our district received less money from the state this year than we did last year, despite our enrollment increase,” he says. “I know there’s a lot out there in the media about whether public schools are getting more money this year or less money this year–we received less state money this year.”

(Other districts did see an increase in state funding, but Lofrese says even that increase wasn’t enough to keep up with the growth in the number of students.)

The effects of the budget cuts aren’t only felt in the loss of positions. Teachers in North Carolina have received only one small raise in the last five years, and this year’s budget also cuts pay increases for teachers with master’s degrees—and as a result, Lofrese says districts across the state are finding it harder to recruit and retain quality teachers.

That includes Chapel Hill-Carrboro.

“Just a few weeks ago we lost a great math teacher to Kentucky,” Lofrese says. “That teacher’s making $10,000 more in Kentucky than they would have made here, on the North Carolina salary schedule. We have a great local supplement, (but) despite our local supplement they’re making $6,000 more in Kentucky than they would have if they’d joined our district.

“That teacher would have had to work in North Carolina for 16 years to make the same amount of money they’re making in Kentucky this year.”

And in spite of the slowly improving economy, Lofrese says he doesn’t see the school funding situation getting better in the future.

“I don’t see the tenor changing anytime soon,” he says, “so we’re planning that budgets are only going to get worse at the state level.”

Still, as schools across town prepare to reopen on Monday–and Northside Elementary prepares to open for the first time–Lofrese says there’s still much to be grateful for.

“We’re excited to welcome kids back and to begin that whole process of teaching and learning that starts on Monday,” he says. “Monday’s a great day for a lot of folks across our community–especially the little ones.”

Monday marks the first day of school for CHCCS; the budget development process for 2014-15 begins in about a month.

http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/chccs-officials-already-worried-about-loss-of-jobs-in-2014/

ProgressNC Says McCrory’s “Stretching The Truth” About Education Budget

RALEIGH - Progress NC Executive Director, Gerrick Brenner says Governor Pat McCrory’s comment that this year’s education budget is the largest in North Carolina history isn’t fair to say.

“Well there’s a couple of things, one he’s not taking inflation into account, and two he’s not taking enrollment growth into account” said Brenner.

In an email, Communications Director for Gov. McCrory, Kim Genardo says the $7.86 billion for K-12 Education in this year’s budget referrers to the appropriated budget. An email sent out by ProgressNC on Thursday said, “Gov. Pat McCrory mislead the public once again about the education budget he signed into law.” It went on to say that $7.91 billion for K-12 education in ’07-’08 and $8.19 billion in ’08-’09 were greater.

However, Genardo said those numbers are actual budget, which includes additional reserves.

Still, Brenner says, taking inflation into account, the praise of the budget was misleading.

“Actually this education budget is about half a billion dollars less than it was in 2007-2008” Brenner claimed.

Some K-12 schools that received cuts to their budget have tried alternative ways to raise money. Brennar says he heard of a school in PolkCounty that held a fundraising breakfast to go towards school supplies. He also claims that this not an isolated incident.

“All you have to do is do a quick Google search and you can see news stories filtering in from across the state of counties having to cut teachers and teaching assistants” Brenner said.

Brenner says he doesn’t agree with the education budget along with other bills that the Governor passed. He says he thinks that the Governor is “twisting the truth” and is beginning to “stretch credibility.”

http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/progressnc-gives-thoughts-on-education-budget/

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.

http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/local-teacher-reacts-to-budget-cuts/

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.

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/new-state-budget-does-not-close-airport/

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.

http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/local-panel-talks-about-effects-of-budget-cuts/