Cover Story: Classrooms - more cuts coming

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Budget cuts - to the bone.  If you think the battle over school closings in Charlotte-Mecklenburg was heated you haven't seen anything yet.

North Carolina will cut education again.  But this time, it's not just a budget axe.  Some say it's a budget execution.

Governor Bev Perdue says her next year's budget will include deep cuts to education.

Perdue has always made education a priority.  But with a budget gap that could top three billion dollars in North Carolina, the governor says school districts will suffer.

The bottom line, teachers will be laid off.  And it'll affect all 115 school districts in the state.

We're looking at layoffs, fewer programs and larger classrooms.

School closings were only the beginning.

Gov. Perdue, who's already working on next year's state budget, says she has little choice.

The state is facing at least $3.2 billion in less revenue.

Education (K-through-12, community colleges and higher ed) makes up roughly half of the state budget.  And it won't get by unscathed.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Pete Gorman quote verbatim what the governor told educators meeting in Greensboro Tuesday.  "Be prepared for major cuts. This will be painful," he said recalling exactly what Perdue had said.

Districts like CMS are bracing for anywhere from 34 million to 100 million dollars less.

With salaries accounting for more than 80-percent of a district's operating budget layoffs are inevitable.  And where are most of those employees?  The answer - teachers.

To dramatize the size of the problem, a $50 million cut in state funding would be the same as laying off 1,000 employees at an average salary-and-benefit cost of $50,000 each.

"I think when you're looking at dollars as big as we're talking about.. I think you're going to have board members ask us.. what does everything cost? We'll break it out. And I think everything's in discussion now," said Gorman.

Gov. Perdue says she wants to protect education as much as possible, but wants schools to find things outside their core mission and eliminate them.

Districts could be looking at cutting back counselors and support staff, cutting out courses not required for graduation, and going to half-day kindergarten which would require changing state law.

CMS Board of Education member Joe White, who was elected president of the state school boards association this week, didn't mince words.

"We're down to where whatever you cut it's hitting the bone. There's no longer just scrapes along the skin. We're to the bone. It hurts," said White.

Sacred cows like athletics will be looked at.  Music and other extra curricular activities could be on the chopping block as well.

The GOP, who will control the General Assembly for the first time in more than a century, may seek to give school districts to expand classroom size.

Said Rep. Thom Tillis, Republican of Cornelius, "Everybody needs to be prepared for some level of cut. I don't think that it will be possible to hold anyone harmless. so it's really more matter of making sure that we protect the things that are most important."

Of course, these cuts come on top of the cutting made during the last two years.

State lawmakers raised taxes earlier this year to make up some of the shortfall.  With Republicans now in power in the General Assembly don't look for that to happen.

We're not only looking at cuts there have been any raises in the budget either.  Most teachers haven't seen raises in three years.

The problem is nationwide.  According to the American Association of School Administrators 61-percent of the school districts across the U.S. have cut classroom teachers this year.

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