Cumberland schools hit by state and federal cuts

June 15, 2011 3:26:53 PM PDT
State budget cuts passed by the General Assembly Wednesday over Governor Perdue's veto are only part of the financial nightmare for educators in Cumberland County.

The district is also dealing with dwindling federal military impact aid. That's money paid to states to offset the cost of educating military dependents whose parents pay income taxes to other states.

For the upcoming 2011-2012 school year, the school system is losing $22 million dollars overall. For 2012-13, it will lose an additional $13.1 million. That's $35.1 million dollars over the next two years. That has administrators scrambling to figure out what to do. They've managed to blunt some of the impact with federal stimulus money.

"So this year we have enough funds in a reserve balance to kind of take the sting off of it and it's like the first shot to let us know how bad it's going to be. Next year, if things do not change, we're going to have a tremendous financial hit," said school board member Michael Boose.

But scores of Cumberland teachers are already paying for the shortfall with their jobs. That includes the Hope Mills Mayor Eddie Dees. He volunteers as a little league softball coach and taught English at South View High School. He's still coaching, but he's one of 10 teachers at South View who have lost their jobs.

"There were two ladies - Pat McKeller and Carolyn Sellers - that have been there since they laid the bricks. They've been there 39 years - since South View started - and they were a part of those causalities too," said Dees.

The numbers are staggering. Superintendent Dr. Frank Till says he's had to cut 377 positions from the budget.

"Of that, 130 were teachers, but we've moved some people around so were able to create vacancies. The real impact, we've cut 11 administrative positions. But the real impact, we've given [reduction in force] notices to 179 [teachers assistants] and there were people in all those positions," he said.

Dees has accepted a position at another school.

Till told ABC11 he's shocked North Carolina lawmakers didn't plug the budget shortfall by implementing a one cent sales tax for education.

"Everybody else, in California and Florida, whenever they could solve it, they did something. This is the first time I've seen them turned their back on the children," he offered.

Democrats say, statewide, a penny tax would have saved more than 13,000 education jobs.

Republicans argue the calculations overstate job losses due to attrition and don't take into account more than $250 million in federal funds the local districts have yet to spend for preserving education positions. The tax breaks alone in the budget will generate nearly 15,000 jobs, said House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake.

"It's time to put all this rhetoric aside and decide that this is a responsible budget in a difficult year," Stam said during the debate over overriding Perdue's veto early Wednesday.

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