With Rep. Mark Hilton of Conover presiding, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education began a review of a proposed state budget sent down by the top writers in the House and Senate. The subcommittee looked at a draft that cut state funding for public schools, community colleges, and universities by $1.1 billion. The plan would trim money to public schools by 8.8 percent, community colleges by 10 percent and the university system by 15.5 percent. Teachers, teaching assistants, administrators, faculty members, and support personnel would lose their jobs. The exact number is still being calculated.
The Manufacturing Solutions Center at Catawba Valley Community College was trimmed by 10 percent, losing just over $52,000 of its state support. The Hickory Higher Education Center was put in the university budget with an appropriation of $264,300. Among programs being totally eliminated are the Teacher Academy, mentoring programs for new teachers, school planning , the Governor’s Education Cabinet, NCCAT, and the Office of Early Learning. Gone. Zipped. Scores of other programs were axed or received a haircut of 25 percent or more.
The budget writers backed away from limiting funding of LEAs (school systems) to one per county. Catawba is one of six counties that has more than one system. “We didn’t want to balance the budget on the backs of counties,” Hilton explained.
The money outline was accompanied by a Special Provision document which Republicans had vowed to eliminate. But the document follows the money and includes language that reflects the mood of the new majority. For example, in a section called “Safe and Orderly Schools” the top chairs indicated they wanted a clear path to “restoring safety and an orderly learning environment in schools.” A parent organization can file a request for the school system to address discipline problems and if the school board declines to act, the state would send in an “assistance team.” Also the provisions says that a principal must allow parents of children in the school to review the budget for the school.
Discipline problems, the learning atmosphere, and attitudes of public school administrators have been cited by advocates for Charter Schools. Apparently the message from budget writers to schools is “get your act together.”
OTHER AGENCIES AND THEIR BUDGETS: The Department of Health and Human Services was cut and also assigned new programs, including the pre-school More at Four. Major changes are mandated with DHHS services. Cultural Resources was cut by 15 percent and Grass Roots funding for local programs was slashed 23 percent. Public television at UNC was slashed by over 50 percent and was advised that all funding would disappear in FY 2012-13. The N.C. Rural Center and the Department of Commerce had reductions of 15 to 25 percent.
…BUT IT HAS JUST BEGUN: Next week committees will engage in debates and entertain some amendments. But with Republicans holding a controlling majority, few changes are likely. The process will go to the Senate the week after Easter and some changes are likely, especially for some relief to the university system.
‘BRING ME THE STAMP AND A GALLON OF RED INK’ : Gov. Perdue has demonstrated her willingness to use the veto. This week she vetoed two bills: one requiring state employees to contribute to their insurance and the other that would let community colleges opt out of federal loan programs. With Republicans determined not to include a sales tax to offset some cuts, it appears likely the governor will use the veto, delaying the Republicans-annnounced deadline for a June 1 budget.
And so the lawmakers face another prospect of a Long Hot Summer.
PISTOL PACKIN’ SERGEANTS: Traditionally, the halls of the Legislature have been open to The People. Young, old, rich, poor, farmers, retirees, professionals, anyone have been able to walk the halls and make their case to the legislators. Now some lawmakers think this openness is an invitation to trouble. So now floating around is a proposal to allow the House and Senate staff in the Sergeant at Arms offices to carry a concealed gun. This comes after a bill that would allow people to carry a concealed weapon in bars and restaurants introduced by Rep. Hilton.
Eyebrows were raised when Charles Thomas, chief of staff to Speaker Thom Tillis appeared before a committee in support of the bill arming the sergeants-at-arms. Thomas is not a legislator and was reminded of this by an angry senator following his presentation.