Schoolchildren are getting less foreign-language instruction and fewer art, music and physical education classes, and are in classrooms with more students because of budget cuts, superintendents told legislators Thursday.
Four school superintendents outlined the losses of teachers, counselors, teacher assistants and other employees over the last four years. The meeting followed by a few weeks a state Board of Education gathering that hit the same theme: that local school budgets are stretched to breaking.
Asked to mention their successes Thursday, superintendents talked of higher test scores, improved graduation rates and special programs funded with grants. But they said they needed a break from a state budget maneuver that has them return money to the state every year.
The state tells the districts to send money back, but doesnt tell them where to cut. But many districts eliminate jobs because personnel costs make up the bulk of their budgets.
The four superintendents outlined various budget-cutting strategies that included reducing teacher-assistant hours, combining school bus routes, and eliminating school librarians.
Since the 2009-2010 school year, districts have had to return nearly $1 billion to the state. This years budget, part of that total, required the schools to return $124 million in addition to the $304 million required in the last budget. Schools may have to increase that by $74 million next year.
On top of that, $259 million in federal stimulus money thats being used to shore up local school budgets is running out this year.
The discretionary cut is a huge cancer on our budget, said Lee County Superintendent Jeff Moss. School budgets have been declining since 2002, he said. Lets not lose another generation of students.
The superintendents meeting comes about a month before the legislature meets for its short session to make budget adjustments.
Rep. Bryan Holloway, a Republican from King who helps write the education budget, said he would like to get the schools discretionary budget cut as small as possible.
When he promised last year to hold a hearing for superintendents, House Speaker Thom Tillis said they would have to justify any teacher cuts because the budget fully funds every teacher and teacher assistant in the state.
Before this school year started, hundreds of teachers and more than 1,250 teacher assistants lost their jobs, according to the state Department of Public Instruction. The superintendents were not asked to justify their decisions Thursday.
The Alleghany County district, which has about 1,500 students, cut 49 full-time staff jobs between 2008 and this year. In 2008, the district was required to give back $118,478 it received from the state. Next year, its projected to return nearly $500,000.
Yes, weve done more with less, said Alleghany County Superintendent Jeff Cox. If I can communicate anything to this group, I feel like were at a tipping point.