The agency tasked with implementing the state’s K-12 public school laws and policies is coping with a 10 percent funding cut handed down by lawmakers last week by eliminating more than 50 jobs, many of which are devoted to helping struggling schools.
“We’re abolishing approximately 54 positions out of roughly 450 state-funded staff positions,” said Dr. June Atkinson, State Superintendent of Public schools and head of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
It’s a 10 percent funding cut to DPI, the largest reduction to any state agency, said Atkinson.
Officials at DPI are eliminating the bulk of those positions through attrition. Anticipating some sort of reduction, Atkinson said the agency avoided filling open positions over the past few months.
Notification of layoffs for five employees will take place this week.
Some of the positions being eliminated are those that help schools with the lowest academic performance. “We have eliminated district and school transformation positions,” said Atkinson. “These positions help our struggling schools in our state.”
Other positions eliminated include information technology jobs that ensure all of the schools data systems are updated, maintained and working properly,
“We did, however, try to protect those positions devoted to Home Base,” said Atkinson, referring to the new statewide data system that provides digital tools and learning resources for teachers.
Not the first time
DPI has been working under a lean operating budget for some time. Atkinson recalled when the agency took its first significant funding cut during her tenure.
“We had a drastic reduction back in 1996,” said Atkinson, at which time DPI operated with around 650 state-funded staff positions.
Since then, the agency has been whittled down to approximately 450 positions, with more reductions having come down in 2010 and 2013.
“We’ve tried to be extremely efficient with taxpayer dollars,” said Atkinson. “We’ve delivered a statewide technology platform under budget and on time – the first of its kind in the nation. We’ve boosted graduation rates, provided services to struggling schools and that support has paid off by seeing great improvements in graduation rates and increased student achievement.”
Atkinson also pointed to the efficiencies gained when a centralized agency offers statewide professional development services and other kinds of support to 115 school districts.
“We do one time what school districts would normally have to do 115 times over,” said Atkinson.
“And then when you see central office staff being cut year after year, then that makes our pooling of resources to help school districts without the proper staff increasingly important.”
“They don’t teach a single child.”
It could have been worse for DPI this year — Senate lawmakers offered up a whopping 30 percent cut to DPI in their budget proposal during the 2014 legislative session.
“As far as I can tell, they [DPI] don’t teach a single child,” Senator Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) said during an appropriations committee hearing in which Senate leaders explained their education proposal.
While Tillman acknowledged the 30 percent cut would require DPI to shut down entire divisions, he also said many local districts would be able to perform the support services DPI currently offers on their own.
But Tyrell County Schools Superintendent Michael Dunsmore doesn’t see things that way.
“DPI has been the lifeblood of my system for the years that I’ve been there,” Dunsmore told the Associated Press in June.
Thanks to state budget cuts, Tyrell County has had to eliminate 26 positions — or 21 percent of its total staff — in a five-year period.
“I rely on the Department of Public Instruction for their support for those things that we couldn’t otherwise afford. I don’t want to be the poster boy for the first school system that goes out of business in the state of North Carolina.”
Eliminated positions at DPI include:
District and School Transformation support positions;
Information Technology support positions;
Positions in the Office of Early Learning, which help children ages 0-3 who are hard of hearing or visually impaired;
Positions that support residential schools for the deaf and blind;
Positions in the Exceptional Children division;
Positions in the Career and Technical Education division; and
Positions in the Accountability and Testing division.
Questions? Comments? Education reporter Lindsay Wagner can be reached at 919-861-1460 or at firstname.lastname@example.org