State budget crunch impacts local jobs

Published 7:20 am Saturday, May 14, 2011

WINTON – Facing major losses of educational dollars from the state level, Dr. John Fahey says he has basically no other choice than to seek additional funds from the local level.

Meanwhile, the Hertford County Public Schools Superintendent is fretting over another loss – that of not offering education for the county’s youngest pupils, which also means the loss of teaching positions.

“On one hand we’re looking at a minimum ten percent budget cut from the state,” Dr. Fahey said. “On the other hand, there’s a measure in the proposed new state budget that moves Pre-K totally out of the Department of Public Instruction and into the State Department of Health and Human Services.”

Fahey said that move affects 22 current Hertford County Public Schools employees (11 teachers and 11 teacher assistants).

“We have no control over those positions if Pre-K moves to Health and Human Services,” Dr. Fahey said. “I’m also concerned that by moving Pre-K away from our control, does that mean Pre-K will become more about basic childcare and less about education?”

Dr. Fahey confirmed that letters had been hand-delivered to the 22 Pre-K instructors, informing them that HCPS will not be offering an employment contract for the next academic year (2011-12).

“We did that during a face-to-face meeting; I was very open and honest with them,” Fahey said.

Meanwhile, approximately 90 other teacher assistant positions within Hertford County Schools remain in limbo.

“We know that the state’s new budget is looking at significantly downsizing the number of teacher assistant positions,” Dr. Fahey noted. “Everything is linked to what the final budget numbers are from the state. What they do affects the number of positions we retain.”

Fahey added that if positions are lost due to state cuts, those employees could be moved into other funded vacancies, contingent upon if the individual has the qualifications for the opening.

“Our (school) board is very proactive when it comes to protecting teaching positions and ensuring that our classrooms are not overcrowded (linked to combining classes due to teacher cutbacks),” Dr. Fahey stated. “We have outstanding teachers and administrators here in Hertford County; we do not want to lose anyone, and if we must, we’d rather have that occur by attrition.”

The state budget, recently approved by the NC House of Representatives and now under study in the NC Senate, cuts more than $360 million for teacher assistants, janitors, clerical workers, assistant principals, and programs that work with at-risk and academically gifted students.

There is a provision in the House version of the budget that makes the State Board of Education, not local boards, responsible for setting policy on how impending school layoffs will be handled.

“We’ve heard about that provision,” Dr. Fahey said. “Personally, I feel it’s not the right thing to do. The needs in each school district are different. We need to have control over the personnel we employ to address our needs here in Hertford County.”

In an effort to offset projected financial cuts from the state, Fahey said he is requesting a $240,000 funding increase from Hertford County local government. That request totals $4,413,524 in local funding.

“I know it’s a tough time to ask for a funding increase, but we’re trying our best to save local jobs,” he stressed. “If the county doesn’t grant our request, we’ll find to find a way to fill that void, but that may include cutting back in other areas.”

Dr. Fahey said his new budget also includes a $1 million transfer from the school system’s fund balance. That would reduce that “rainy day” fund to $1.5 million.

“Thankfully, the school board has been very conservative with our fund balance over the years,” he noted.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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