Point of View

So much on the line for NC schools, our students

August 1, 2013 

Two hundred and four. That’s the number of instructional positions – teachers and teacher assistants – in Durham Public Schools not funded in the next state budget.

The budget passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory cuts Durham Public Schools by $4.8 million – which translates into the loss of 204 positions, plus cuts in classroom materials, textbooks and English as a Second Language programming. Real people’s jobs – the women and men who stand at front of our classes, teaching, leading and nurturing our children each and every day – are on the line because of misguided budget priorities in the General Assembly.

Those numbers speak but tell only part of the story. Dig a little deeper into this legislative session and you find what can be described only as an all-out assault on public education. Career educators will suddenly face employment uncertainty under short-term contracts and the loss of tenure. Teachers will no longer have financial incentive to better their own professional development and achieve master’s degrees. Thousands of teaching assistant positions have been summarily unfunded with the strike of a pen. All of this while the General Assembly siphons millions of taxpayer dollars out of public education and funnels it instead into privately run schools with little to no financial oversight.

Durham Public Schools is a district unique in North Carolina with nearly 63.4 percent of our students economically disadvantaged. We, like many other urban districts, face difficulties that test our resolve as educators and challenge our mettle. But DPS is also an innovative district, and we serve these students and all others through inventive programs such as magnet schools, one-to-one technology programs, career and technical education, middle school instructional focus areas and extensive community partnerships.

In 2011-12, we had no low-performing schools, and all of our middle schools made expected or high academic growth. We graduated 1,944 students this past June, and 81 percent were going on to higher education. We are tremendously proud of the achievements we’ve made in Durham Public Schools in spite of difficult budget years.

But we couldn’t do any of it without teachers and teacher assistants.

Through careful and wise fiscal management, DPS has protected teaching positions since 2009. With support from our Board of Education and county commissioners, we have reallocated monies, dipped into our fund balance and made tough decisions with one goal in mind: to protect educators, the heart and soul of our district.

We will once more attempt to do the same – because it’s the right thing to do. But the hard truth is this: It hurts more and more each year, and we can’t do this forever. We are robbing Peter to pay Paul, and at some point in the very near future our options disappear. The General Assembly cannot improve our schools by starving them.

DPS works hard to manage our district responsibly. We strive to improve instruction of our students with rigor and purpose. Our schools, and those in all other North Carolina districts, deserve better from Raleigh.

In lieu of such support from our legislature, I hope that those in the Durham community and across our great state will join me in maintaining our commitment to the educators who inspire and guide our children. Our future depends on it.

Dr. Eric J. Becoats is superintendent of Durham Public Schools.

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