‘It’s not going to be pretty’

Published 9:41 am Monday, December 13, 2010

Projected state budget cuts to education could be devastating to students, staff and the education process.

All four superintendents in the Roanoke-Chowan region said the budget cuts – which could be five or 10 percent – would be hard to absorb.

“News of the projected state budget cuts could not come at a worse time,” said Northampton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy.

Dr. Bracy said the reason for the bad timing was the end of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as stimulus funds.

“We are currently spending the remainder of the… funds to get us through this fiscal year,” he said. “These funds amount to $1,073,201.68 and we are using this money to pay for 16 teacher positions. This is the last year for these funds and we do not anticipate any carryover beyond June 30, 2011.”

He added that the state cuts could cost Northampton County Schools eight teacher positions bringing the total number of classroom teachers in jeopardy to 24.

Bertie County’s Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Will Crawford said the cuts would be difficult to absorb.

“If the General Assembly passes on a five percent cut, according to the information we have received, that would mean $1,058,000,” Dr. Crawford said. “In terms of what that would mean, the board and I would have to work hard to try to minimize the impact on the school system.

“I can tell you now that a big cut such as 10 to 20 positions would be very, very difficult to overcome,” he added.”

Dr. Crawford said at this point, he was planning to build the budget for Bertie County Schools around a 10 percent reduction in state funding.

“We’ll plan at 10 percent and hope funding comes in better than that,” he said. “It’s not going to be a pretty picture.”

The interim superintendent said five positions had already been eliminated from the district’s central office due to retirements or transfers.

“The central office has cut about as much as we can,” Dr. Crawford said. “Anything else is going to be absorbed at the building level.”

Currently, the district has 33 positions funded by the stimulus funds, which will not be there next year.

“We have to figure out how to keep those positions,” he said. “I think we have figured that out. Now the challenge is how do we live with the 20 position cut and where do we get the other $1 million in cuts. It’s going to be a tough thing.”

Dr. Crawford said he and the members of the Bertie County Board of Education would try to protect people who come into direct contact with students first, but said the entire district would have to work together.

“We have to remember that we’re all in this together,” he said. “Short funding from the state is something none of us can help.”

Dr. John Fahey, Superintendent of Hertford County Public Schools, said the short fall could have vast implications.

“Like every school district, it will have some strong implications as to what we’re going to do and what we want to do in the future,” Dr. Fahey said. “We’re going to have to look at every program and, essentially, every position to see what we’re going to do.”

The Superintendent said he and the members of the board would be good stewards of what money they received and use “scrutiny” to see what programs continue and what has to end.

Class size is a major concern for Dr. Fahey.

“We need to keep the staff and that’s my responsibility and the boards,” he said. “The problem is with the amount of money the state could cut, it may affect class size.”

He said if the state cuts 10 percent, the district would almost certainly be forced to dip into its fund balance to survive.

“With the cuts we have received, a 10 percent cut would really mean a 14 percent reduction,” Dr. Fahey said. “It’s certainly going to be a challenge and we’ll be up for it.”

He said the district was already busy working to see what they could do to minimize the effects of the cuts.

In Gates County, Superintendent Dr. Zenobia Smallwood and Assistant Superintendent Earl Norfleet said the district is already working to make the cuts as minimal as possible, but said class size is a major concern.

“Right now we’re looking at how it’s going to impact class size,” Dr. Smallwood said. “If we lost state teaching positions according to the proposal, it is definitely going to impact class size.

“We are beginning to discuss what happens with larger class sizes,” she continued. “Gates County has always provided small classes and research shows small class sizes provide better instruction.”

Norfleet said he had already begun working with the schools to identify what would happen if the state passes on the 10 percent cut.

“We are looking at the worst-case scenario and each school has been asked to discuss that with staff members,” Norfleet said. “If the worst-case scenario happens, we will do what will have the least impact on students.”

Norfleet said the district’s contingency fund may help through the tough year, but won’t help long-term.

Smallwood said it was important to remember the district had already suffered through a four percent cut along with the rest of the schools in the state.

“The cuts are tough whether you are a large district or a small one,” Dr. Smallwood said. “Smaller districts where people wear many hats already, class size will increase. It’s going to be felt.”