Teachers could face furloughs

The Senate prepares a $19 billion budget designed to close an $800 million gap.

staff writersMay 18, 2010 

Teachers could be in line for unpaid days off if local school boards and university leaders decide to impose furloughs for budget savings.

The state Senate's proposed budget would give local school districts the authority to furlough employees for up to two days, and it would give the UNC system the option of furloughing workers. School and university employees who make under $30,000 would be exempt.

State Sen. A.B. Swindell, a Nashville Democrat, said districts would be able to use furloughs only as a last resort. Education lobbyists were told furlough days could not be taken when students are in school. All district schedules include teacher workdays.

The education provisions were part of a $19 billion budget the Senate was expected to roll out today that includes cuts to deal with an expected $800 million gap between revenue and planned spending. The reductions go deeper into health and human services staffing than Gov. Bev Perdue proposed, but the budget follows her lead in several other areas, including job creation initiatives. Senators also proposed a tax cut for many small businesses. The state House will write its own version of the budget in the coming weeks.

The Senate proposal, expected to be approved by the chamber Thursday, also makes a few obscure shifts in the law, such as requiring drive-through businesses to position a trash can by the window and expanding a ban on plastic bags to all Outer Banks retailers. The spending plan also provides university researchers with $2 million to test devices that float on the ocean and generate electricity, sometime called "wave snakes."

The Senate's proposed public school budget, at $7.1 billion, would still force local school districts to make $305 million in discretionary cuts in 2010-11. But the Senate plan erases the additional $135 million in unspecified local cuts Perdue proposed.

Overall, the budgets for public schools, the state university system and community college system were not cut as deeply as they were in Perdue's proposal.

"It's a better budget for education," Sen. Richard Stevens, a Cary Republican and a co-chairman of the Senate education budget writing committee. "Is it ideal? No. It's better than it was."

School districts including Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Winston-Salem/Forsyth and Durham needed state permission to furlough teachers.

Many Durham teachers supported furloughs when they were asked for money-saving ideas, said Durham school board Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown.

"We're real excited for that option," she said.

Brian Lewis, a lobbyist for the N.C. Association of Educators, said it was much too soon for legislators to be talking about furloughs. The Senate proposal also includes a $10 million cut to local districts for school administrator salaries and benefits, and it eliminates dropout prevention grants.

The public schools would get about $30 million in extra lottery money.

In other areas, the Senate budget proposal:

Allows small business owners to file income tax at the same rate as corporations, effectively cutting their tax rate from 7.75 percent to 6.9 percent.

Cuts nearly 200 positions from the Department of Health and Human Services, while Perdue had proposed around 50

Reduces personal care services for invalids to only medically necessary services, saving an estimated $59 million.

Banks on $430 million in federal stimulus money to help cover the ever-ballooning Medicaid bill.

Restores $40 million for mental health cut last year.

Raises nearly $14 million in new court fees, including a $10 fee for anyone who wants to legally go back to using a former name.

Sells 23 aircraft owned by the Forest Resources department and Marine Fisheries division for an expected $3.5 million in revenue.

Asks the Department of Correction to draft a plan for a pilot program to privatize the state probation system.

Allows liquor tastings at distilleries.

After the Senate votes on its budget, it goes to the House for a rewrite.

lynn.bonner@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4821

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