Schools, others bracing for cuts under budget
By Sarah Campbell and Karissa Minn
RALEIGH ó Among the statewide changes in the North Carolina budget enacted Wednesday are provisions that hit close to home in Rowan County.
The General Assembly voted Wednesday to override the governorís veto of its $19.7 billion budget, passing the spending plan into law.
Members of the Republican majority praise the budgetís tax cuts and its focus on the classroom, while opposed Democrats ó including Gov. Bev Perdue ó say it makes deep cuts to schools and would eliminate 13,000 public education jobs.
Locally, school systems are preparing for how the stateís budget will affect their plans.
The Rowan-Salisbury School System will face between $5 million and $6 million in state cuts. That figure is lower than the districtís original estimate of $8 million.
But Tara Trexler, the school systemís chief financial officer, said the plan for tackling the deficit is still the same.
The district will use its $4.2 million share of federal Education Jobs Fund money and tap its fund balance for up to $2 million. Vacant central office positions will remain frozen and cutbacks could be made in staff development, technology and textbook adoptions in order to balance the budget.
Next yearís shortfall is on top of $12 million in state cuts from the past two years. Trexler said the district anticipates having the same $5 million to $6 million in state cuts the following year.
ìBut we wonít have federal Jobs Bill funding in 2012-2013 and there will be less fund balance to apply to the expenditures,î she said in an email to the Post. ìThat is when we will be back to prioritizing expenditures and making cuts.î
The state budget also includes a measure that could allow school districts to charge students for driverís education classes.
Rowan-Salisbury currently offers the program free of charge, but that could change.
ìIf funding is cut to a level that we could not operate the program on state driver education funding alone, we would potentially consider charging up to the $45 per student allowed in the proposal,î Trexler said in an email to the Post.
The state budget includes no cuts for teachers or teacher assistants currently employed. The Senate had considered cutting teacher assistants in its draft.
The Kannapolis City school district can breathe a sigh of relief. A measure that would decrease funding to city school systems by 20 percent next year and eliminate it in 2012-13 did not make the final budget draft.
ìTherefore, that became a non-issue very quickly,î Ellen Boyd, the districtís director of community relations said in an email to the Post.
Boyd said the district could not provide an estimate Wednesday of how the state budget would impact the school system.
Earlier this year, the district estimated a $2.1 million shortfall. Forty-nine teacher assistants and 19 teachers received pink slips to deal with the deficit.
Six custodians, three instructional technology specialists, two administrative assistants, two guidance counselors and one media coordinator also lost their jobs.
The layoffs were based on worst-case scenario projections and no additional personnel cuts are expected.
The budget halts a proposed consolidation of judicial and prosecutorial districts, which would have placed one district attorney in charge of prosecuting Rowan and Cabarrus counties.
Instead, a 10-member committee will study how to reduce and consolidate the stateís districts and give its recommendations to the General Assembly in 2012.
If state lawmakers pass the Justice Reinvestment Act, which moves misdemeanor offenders with sentences of six months or less to county jails, the budget would establish a Statewide Misdemeanor Confinement Fund to help counties cover increased costs.
The state budget would raise several court and jail fees to generate money for the fund if the Justice Reinvestment Act passes.
The N.C. Transportation Museum will be funded at 50 percent of the current level for a year before it is required to support itself in two years. (See related story on 1A.)
The state budget establishes a $300,000 emergency fund, which can be used for repairs and other needs, but any money the museum takes must be reimbursed.
The stateís agricultural research stations will remain open, scrapping the governorís proposal to close seven stations and sell them.
A 2008 report by the General Assemblyís Program Evaluation Division had recommended closure of seven stations in particular, but Piedmont Research Station was not on that list.