Continuing the Conversation
Last Tuesday, superintendents from across the state traveled to Research Triangle Park to share with State Board members how their districts have been affected by cuts in the state budget. We heard story after story of teachers losing their jobs, students struggling in crowded classrooms, and principals who are operating schools with fewer resources and staff than they have ever had before.
As I listened to these stories, I felt grateful that North Carolina has such a dynamic, talented and committed group of individuals at the helm of so many of its school districts. Some of these superintendents have been in their roles 10, 20 and even 30 years or more. They have seen it all and faced many challenges. Yet they keep doing what they are doing because they truly care about their principals, teachers and staff, but most of all, they care about the students. That is why they have been innovative and creative in making adjustments, and coping with budget cuts in ways that have the least amount of impact on the classroom. They understand better than anyone else what budget cuts are doing to our schools and that is why I want to devote this blog entry to sharing some of their words with you.
"We have used federal dollars to try and limp through the past two or three years, but we cannot continue to limp."
– Superintendent Kathy Spencer, Onslow County Schools
"We are at a time now where things are like a rubber band. You keep stretching, stretching, stretching and stretching and eventually, it pops."
–Superintendent Michael Bracey, Jones County Schools
"I am always told 'just get rid of your central office.' My central office has already been cut 25 percent and is only about 1.3 percent of our total budget. So if you wanted to fire me four times, we could do that."
–Superintendent Ethan Lenker, Sampson County Schools
"Today's education system is the research and development of our greatest natural resource – the youth of North Carolina. A question many of us have is what year will be the tipping point to providing an excellent education when funding continues to be slashed? When will we, as North Carolina citizens, truly see the effects of these reductions in education funding?"
– Superintendent Randy Bledsoe, Elkin City Schools
"I have had the opportunity to be a superintendent for 29 years and last year was one of the toughest I believe I have ever spent in superintendency."
– Superintendent Ronald Wilcox, Madison County Schools
"Our children deserve better…and we need to say that 1,000 times if it takes 1,000 times. We have done so many things and people have invested their lives in bringing education to this level and we cannot let it be torn down. We cannot have that taken away from us."
–Superintendent Ira Trollinger, McDowell County Schools
"It is dead wrong for the legislature to give us extra teaching positions with the right hand and take the money back with the left hand. … Making education a top priority should be the one thing that all political parties should agree on."
–Superintendent Scott Penland, Clay County Schools
"We don't have any more places to put students. When the fire marshall comes to Mooresville High School, we have to run two hallways ahead of him and move things around so he won't shut us down."
–Superintendent Mark Edwards, Mooresville Graded Schools
"The discretionary reduction has been devastating to our county and will continue to be as long as it continues. We did everything we could to cut outside the classroom first and we used all federal dollars at our disposal. There is nothing left to cut."
–Superintendent Dale Ellis, Montgomery County Schools
"We refuse to leave our children by the side of the road. We will not do it and we cannot do it, despite the billions of dollars we have lost."
– Superintendent Lillie Cox, Alamance-Burlington Schools
"The discretionary reduction reminds me of a situation where a robber comes into your house. He says 'I am going to let you pick out the five items I can take, but they have to be the most valuable. I will let you make the choice.' And he says on the way out, 'By the way, I am coming back next year and I am gonna want some more.' And this is robbery. People are robbing us of the resources we need to support public schools. And it needs to stop…We are down to the bone now. We are only able to take care of the basic expenses for what it takes to operate our schools and it is just a shame."
– Superintendent Ray Spain, Warren County Schools
This is only a selection of the powerful stories that we heard last week. To watch the full meeting, visit http://www.wral.com/news/video/10938839/#/vid10938839.
I have great respect and admiration for these brave leaders. They have had to make difficult choices over the past few years. They have changed schedules and bus routes, combined classes, reduced course offerings and they did more with less. Some have had to close schools. And most all of them have had to fire central office staff, assistant principals, teacher assistants, teachers and other support staff.
These superintendents understand the crushing impact these choices can have on families in their districts. They are not playing a political game. They came to this meeting because they care about the future of our schools, students and communities. I can only hope that our lawmakers share these concerns and that they will have the courage and the wisdom to listen to these stories and use them as they make decisions about public school funding in the months to come.