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Gov. Bev Perdue hears local school superintendents' concerns

Gov. Bev Perdue addresses area superintendents and other educators in the media center at Weddington High School. Also pictured, seated at right, is Union County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Ed Davis.

When Gov. Bev Perdue, surrounded by her entourage of assistants, entered the media center at Weddington High School Monday (June 13, 2011), she was greeted with a standing ovation and applauds.

The media center's shelves, filled with library books, and student work desks had been pushed aside, replaced by rows of chairs that turned the high school media center into a pseudo meeting room for the governor and seven area school superintendents, as well as area educators and community members.

About 120 school superintendents, principals, teachers, teacher assistants, parents and community college representatives filled the chairs, while reporters and camera crews lined one side of the room.

Perdue, who made North Carolina history Sunday by being the first governor to veto a proposed state budget plan, had asked to meet with area superintendents and other educators to further gauge the effects of the looming deep budget cuts anticipated by the Senate and House’s approved budget plan.

She began the meeting by talking about her frustration over the budget presented to her. The tipping point that led to vetoing the budget, she said, were comments made in a public forum by a teacher in Boone who had encouraged one of his students to leave North Carolina to pursue his teacher career.

"He told the young man, 'Be a teacher, but go to another state; one that values education and educators; a state that invests in our people.' That was the minute that I decided to veto the budget," she said.

Union County Superintendent Dr. Ed Davis, who had offered Perdue the uses of WHS as a central location for the meeting, was the first to address the governor. He voiced concerns over the proposed state budget if the legislators override her budget veto.

Davis said that UCPS faces $11.5 million in discretionary cuts from the state alone if the proposed budget passes, on top of local and federal budget cuts. This equates to about 174 jobs that will be lost, he said. The cuts will increase another $2 million for the 2012-13 school year.

This can be mitigated somewhat this year, he said, by using federal dollars called EduJobs funds, but those are only available for one year. "I'm very concerned about any budget that going forward doesn't have a plan," he said. "This budget has no plan to fill the hole for the 2012-13 school year."

Davis said he is also concerned about the loss of teacher assistants. "Those teacher assistants that could lose their jobs work directly with students. Teacher assistants are not just clerical assistants any more. They don't just grade papers, do bulletin boards and monitor the hallway. They work closely with students with one-on-one instruction and in small groups."

Sally Norris, president of the local chapter of the North Carolina Association of Teacher Assistants, spoke on behalf of her peers, saying they are partners in the classrooms, "co-teachers."

"We have wonderful teachers who I'm sure could do their jobs without teacher assistants, but their days would be a lot longer, they would be frustrated a lot faster, and they would get burned out quickly," Norris said. "Teachers have about 24 students in their classrooms. They can't work with all those students every single day."

Several superintendents also spoke, addressing loss of teachers and other staff because of reduced funding. "We had to give out 135 pink slips a month ago," said Stanly County Superintendent Dr. Sam DePaul. "This was about 55 teacher assistants, and we've lost 60 teaching positions over the past couple of years. We have to close a school come July 1. We'll be closing another school the following year, and a third school the year after that. Some needed closing, but we don't have any choice now."

South Piedmont Community College president John McKay spoke to Perdue about the loss of funding on the community college level. SPCC could lose $800,000 to $900,000 locally, he said.

"That's at least six positions and two programs that we're not going to be able to operate," McKay said. "There may be more once we get into this budget and see how it's going to impact us. We're the place that can help students get the skills they need that don't have a high school diploma, or that 34-year-old whose gotten laid off. So the 10.7 percent cut that we're getting is going to impact all those people."

At the close of the meeting, Perdue was surrounded by news media for an impromptu press conference. She said she asked for the meeting in order to assess the total picture of the severity of the impact from the proposed budget cuts.

Davis said following the meeting that he felt it important that Perdue hear from area superintendents and other educators because this region (Region 6) of the state represents a large percentage of the students in North Carolina.

"They've allowed the one-cent sales tax to expire," he said. "When you cut revenue and you cut expenditures, the bleeding has got to stop sometime. I hope cooler heads will prevail at some point and they'll see that our school districts can't continue to take the cuts of this magnitude."

Superintendent from Region 6 who were in attendance included Anson County School Dr. Greg Firn, Cabarrus County Associate Superintendent Dr. Colleen Sain, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Dr. Peter Gorman, Gaston County Superintendent Reeves McGloghan, Montgomery County Schools Dr. Dale Ellis, Stanly County Superintendent Dr. Sam DePaul and UCPS Superintendent Dr. Ed Davis.

Union County Board of Education Chairman Dean Arp, and board members John Crowder, Shery Hodges and Marce Savage were also in attendance.

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Jun 15, 2011 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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