Governor’s budget proposal impacts HCPS

Published 7:29 pm Sunday, March 31, 2013

WINTON – “Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.”

That how Hertford County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Perry describes a plan to shift state education funds from one department to another.

According to information provided by the North Carolina County Commissioners Association (NCACC), Governor Pat McCrory’s 2013-14 budget proposal keeps county school construction lottery funding at the recessionary amount of $100 million, despite an improving state revenue outlook. Increased and reallocated lottery funds are directed instead at school technology and Pre-Kindergarten slots.

“Sure, we can use the funds to upgrade technology and ensure that every eligible child in Hertford County can enroll in the Pre-K program, but in the same breath we have aging elementary school buildings that are in need of replacement,” Perry said.

Perry said the state is requiring technology upgrades, thus the plan to shift of portion of the lottery funds to that specific area of the educational process.

“We have to invest in the future of education in Hertford County and that future is built around having modern facilities in which our children can experience a positive learning environment,” Perry stated. “We need the lottery construction funds to help us offset those costs.”

The Governor’s budget proposal appropriates to counties slightly more than half of the lottery funds for school capital needs that counties are statutorily due. It also permanently redirects the county share of the corporate income tax (ADM Fund) to the state’s general fund.

Counties are supposed to receive 40 percent of lottery proceeds each year for school construction needs, approximately $180 million for 2013-14. The NCACC said McCrory’s budget appropriates to counties 22.2 percent ($100 million)—roughly the same percentage of net revenue lottery dollars allocated during the state’s budget crisis. Over the past four years, the state has shifted nearly $300 million of county lottery proceeds to other educational uses while also diverting the county share of the corporate income tax that is dedicated to school construction needs. As a result, counties have lost nearly half a billion dollars in state support for public school construction in the past four years, all while the state’s school population continues to grow faster than most of the rest of the nation.

“The revenues from the education lottery, which now represent the only ongoing state support for public school construction, are helping counties throughout the state keep pace with increased enrollment, either by building new schools or expanding and renovating existing facilities,” said NCACC Executive Director David F. Thompson. “I am especially concerned that 64 counties have pledged some or all of their lottery proceeds for existing school debt service. When the lottery was created, legislators encouraged counties to dedicate their lottery proceeds for debt service to accommodate the state’s rapidly growing school population and to begin addressing the backlog of school capital needs for our children.

“This will mark the fourth consecutive year that the county share of lottery proceeds has been reduced significantly, and it will be the fifth straight year that counties have received none of the funds from the corporate income tax,” Thompson added.

Fortunately for Hertford County Schools, they have no current debt service linked to the lottery funds received.

In another budget concern, Perry said the governor’s proposal to eliminate teacher assistant funding for 2nd, 3rd grade classes in an effort to increase teacher assistant-student ratio in kindergarten and 1st grade is also a mixed reaction on his part.

“That’s another double whammy,” Perry said. “By next summer the state will mandate that if certain testing benchmarks are not met, that means summer school for our students. But yet the governor is proposing taking away teacher assistants, personnel we count on to help our students reach those mandates.”

Perry said the governor’s proposal looks good on one end, but the thought of losing teacher assistants on the other end is discouraging.

“He wants to take away the assistants, but also create thousands of new teaching positions,” Perry observed. “But you can safely guess that those new teachers aren’t coming here to Hertford County, Gates, Bertie or Northampton. They’re going to the big metro areas – Wake County and Mecklenburg County where student population is growing by leaps and bounds.”

The loss of assistant teachers also impacts the local economy, Perry stressed.

“If this plan is approved, we’ll have a lot of good assistant teachers out of a job….that means their income will not be turned over here with our local businesses. I’m very concerned about that fact,” Perry stated.

“I’ve met with other superintendents and we’re all concerned. We’re prayerful and hopeful that things will work out in the General Assembly when our legislative leaders debate the governor’s proposed budget,” Perry closed.

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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