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UCPS officials meet with NC legislators

Four North Carolina legislators heard first-hand Tuesday how state and local budget cuts are impacting Union County Public Schools.
The UCPS Legislative Breakfast, held Tuesday, December 9, 2008, is a two-way communications tool between state legislators and UCPS administrative staff and Board of Education members. Legislators attending were North Carolina Sen. Eddie Goodall, Reps. Pryor Gibson and Curtis Blackwood and Rep. Elect Justin P. Burr.
The third annual legislative event, held at the Instructional Support Center on Brewer Drive, enabled school officials to communicate their 10-item legislative agenda, those areas of major concern that school officials hope legislators will support in Raleigh.
These include such things as teacher and assistant principal pay raises, tax exempt status, maintaining the school system funding levels, state health insurance funding, local control of the school calendar and funding for ABCs bonuses.

Superintendent Dr. Ed Davis thanked legislators for their continued support, saying they had done a good job of representing the interests of Union County. Davis said that even though North Carolina seems to be in better shape financially than other states, he understands there are real challenges ahead.

The agenda item at the top of the list asks the state to maintain funding at current levels. “Even though it’s tapered off slightly, we’re still growing at an alarming rate,” Davis said. “This is still a challenge. Coupled with the fact that we have a very diverse population here in Union County, we can’t afford to take any steps backward.”

Davis said the school system has had to return a total of $3.5 million to the state and county governments and about $2.4 million in allotted teacher positions, as anticipated enrollment was less than expected. This makes a total of about $6.2 million less to run the school system.

“We have budgeted conservatively and have figured out ways to cover that without having a major impact on what happens in the classroom, however, we can’t do anymore,” Davis said. “It’s going to be very tough to cut any more funding without having a direct impact on what is happening in the classroom.”

Gibson, a chairman of the NC House’s Finance Committee, said there are no easy answers to how to deal with state budget shortfalls.

“The probable answer to the question, ‘What are we going to do in these tough economic times?’ is “The best that we can.’ We can’t spend 60 percent of our state budget on education and then turn around and cut 10 percent and not somehow affect education. It’s going to be a very lean year, not just for Union County, not just for North Carolina, but also for everyone in this country. The reality is we’re going to have to cut substantial money from everybody’s budget. We’re going to have to learn to get along with a little bit less until everything settles down and we can start building again.”

UCPS Board of Education member Richard Weiner echoed Davis’ concerns. “Eighty-six percent of the money you give us goes to two things -- salaries and benefits, and any additional cuts that come this year or next year, will probably have an impact on the number of teachers we have in the system.”

“Acknowledging that there are some financial challenges ahead, we’ll try to figure out how to resolve those so the students don’t have to pay the price,” said Goodall, a member of both the Senate Finance and Education committees.

The State Health Care crisis was also discussed. “We’ve already acknowledged that there will be a 10 percent shortfall in the state budget,” said Blackwood, who is vice chairman of the House Education Subcommittee. “We’ve also recognized that 60 percent of the state budget goes to education, so it’s going to be a challenge. And what we do with the Health Care (shortfall) will be significant.”

Blackwood is referring to the State Health Plan, which logged a $65 million shortfall this fiscal year. The Health Plan, which provides coverage to nearly 650,000 public school teachers, state employees, retirees and their dependents, is projected to run out of money by March of 2009.

Davis asked that if major changes occur in the school system’s health benefits, legislators let the school system know as soon as possible so plans could be made accordingly.

One of the legislators in attendance at Tuesday’s breakfast will be a new face in Raleigh when he is sworn in this January. “I was glad to have come because it gave me an opportunity to hear directly from the school system, as to what the needs are,” said Burr, recently elected to represent the 67th District, which includes Stanly, Union and Montgomery counties.

“It helps to know what the local people need when you go to Raleigh,” Burr said. “That’s the reason we’re there. It was important to sit back and listen to what we need to be working on, what we need to pay attention to in Raleigh, to make sure the school system can function the way it needs to.”

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, Publications Coordinator
Posted: Dec 11, 2008 by Deb Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator

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