- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 4, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The North Carolina Senate budget would give teachers raises, but when those raises come at the expense of cuts to the state Department of Public of Instruction, education leaders say schools will still suffer.

State schools superintendent June Atkinson, her local counterparts and school administrators called on House lawmakers Wednesday to reject the Senate’s proposed cuts to the department’s budget.

Atkinson and administrators from rural and urban districts across the state criticized the proposal to cut the department’s expenses by 30 percent or $15 million, saying it would undermine the support the department gives to teachers. Atkinson said if the cuts are approved, it would result in a loss of 100-150 DPI staff.

Administrators from school districts across the state said DPI has provided essential services and has provided research information, curriculum development and technology support that have helped them function in the midst of budget cuts over the years.

“DPI has been the lifeblood of my system for the years that I’ve been there,” said Michael Dunsmore, superintendent of Tyrrell County schools. He said because of state budget cuts, his district has cut 26 positions, 21 percent of his total staff, in a five-year period.

“I rely on the Department of Public Instruction for their support for those things that we couldn’t otherwise afford. I don’t want to be the poster boy for the first school system that goes out of business in the state of North Carolina.”

Ricky Lopes, finance officer Cumberland County schools, said giving teachers raises won’t help districts when they have to cut jobs to fund them.

With the Senate proposal, Lopes said his district would have to cut 300 positions in order to fund teacher raises.

“I’m all for pay raises but if you’re going to undercut the support structures I wouldn’t really call that a raise in compensation,” said Dale Cole, a principal from Beaufort County.

Atkinson said DPI’s work is designed to help and support teachers to teach more effectively. She said they cannot fill every role in the school and still focus on teaching students.

“They cannot be the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker,” she said. “They need an infrastructure to help them so they can pay attention to children and not other areas.”

The Senate $21.2 billion Senate budget that was passed last week offers veteran teachers pay raises above 10 percent, but includes cuts to fund the raises. They budget includes line-item cuts totaling $390 million, of which more than half came from reducing funds that school districts could otherwise use to hire 7,400 teacher assistants.

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