It’s not usually crowded when the Wake County legislative delegation meets in a small committee room in the Legislative Office Building. There are rarely television cameras recording every word.
But the room was packed and the cameras were there Monday because Wake County Board of Education Chair Ron Margiotta was scheduled to appear and talk to lawmakers about the sharply divided board and its requests from the General Assembly.
People looking for partisan fireworks at the meeting came away disappointed. There weren’t any. Margiotta spoke briefly, as did board member Carolyn Morrison, who went over the board’s legislative agenda.
What happened instead is that lawmakers received a clear message from Wake County School Superintendent Anthony Tata, N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson, and Wake Tech President Stephen Scott that significant state budget cuts would do serious damage to each institution’s ability to educate its students.
Legislative leaders have told budget writers to find $760 million more to slash in education beyond the cuts Governor Beverly Perdue proposed, primarily because they refuse to consider raising any new revenue or keeping the 2009 temporary tax increases in place for two more years.
Tata, who has enjoyed strong support from Republican leaders, said he was careful to protect the classroom in the budget he put together for Wake County Schools but said any state cuts of more than 5 percent would make that very difficult. Tata also said that keeping class sizes low in the early grades was vital to helping kids learn and that teacher assistants also played an important role.
Among the options now being considered by House and Senate education budget writers are 10 percent cuts to public schools, increasing class sizes and laying off all teacher assistants.
N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson told the lawmakers that his reorganization plans have saved millions at the university but deeper cuts would cost the university faculty, reduce classes and make it more difficult for students to earn their degrees.
The legislative budget writers are now looking at cuts that would slash more than 10 percent from the university system and there are rumors of cuts more than twice than big being suggested.
Wake Tech President Stephen Scott said that enrollment is up a startling 36 percent at his college in the last four years, while per pupil funding has been cut by 12 percent. Cuts of 10 percent more are now on the table in House and Senate education budget committees.
Scott also pointed out that the proposal to limit enrollment in the UNC system to save money would only increase the pressures on community colleges at the same time funding was being reduced.
All the cuts under consideration may not happen, but a lot of them will have to be made if legislative leaders continue to insist on cutting another $760 million from education. It’s just simple math.
Tata, Woodson, and Scott could not have been clearer about what is at stake. And they are not the only ones saying it. School leaders across the state, Democrats and Republicans, have the same message for legislators, make the proposed budget cuts and children and schools will suffer.
The cameras and reporters were at the Wake delegation meeting Monday for one story and they heard another. The question is whether legislative leaders are hearing it and are willing to put their silly pledges and rigid ideology aside and pass a responsible budget that protects education at all levels and the state’s future that depends on it.