Now that the depth of the school budget crisis in North Carolina has become clearer, school supporters have recovered from their initial shock and are starting to fight back. In the meantime, however, some sacred cows are being unexpectedly gored.
The statewide school budget mess reached a couple of milestones last week. June Atkinson, the superintendent of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, fresh from a court victory over Gov. Perdue that reaffirmed Atkinson's authority, issued a somber warning about the additional cuts being considered in the General Assembly. Meanwhile in Charlotte, the county school board approved a slashed CMS budget, which, among other things, took away one of Supt. Peter Gorman's favorite playthings.
Atkinson used an appearance in Asheville last week to point out that schools are taking a much bigger hit than other recipients of state funding, and warned that additional cuts would put public schools at "serious risk." Atkinson noted that N.C. ranked 42nd in the U.S. in the amount of money spent per student in 2007-08 and, "this year, our public schools received a smaller appropriation from the state's General Fund ... even though we now have 30,000 more students."
In a separate action, the State Board of Education noted that new cuts being considered would slash N.C.'s support for public schools by 16 percent; throw in the further reductions in Gov. Perdue's budget, and it adds up to a 24-percent cut for NCDPI, as opposed to the 2- to 7-percent cuts proposed for other state agencies. Atkinson summed up the situation succinctly and correctly: "Our schools are our future. It is imperative to fund public schools first."
This is the part where I come in and, once again, propose raising taxes to save the schools, after which many readers will jump up and down and yell that they are already "overtaxed," and ask if I have lost my mind. But hold on, dear readers, there's good news. Even though the notion that Americans are taxed to death has become a familiar refrain in the conservative songbook, USA Today last week reported that in reality, Americans "paid their lowest level of taxes last year since Harry Truman's presidency ... Federal, state and local taxes ... consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950." The historic average during the past 50 years was 12 percent. Much of the reduction in tax expenditures, says USA Today, comes from last year's stimulus law, one-third of which went to tax cuts. This all confirms what I've been saying for weeks: Education is much too important to be held hostage to political budgeting games; and yes, we can shoulder the minuscule tax increase it would take to save our schools -- not to mention keep the state's education rankings from sinking any lower than they already are.
Granted, some legitimate, non-crucial school spending can be axed without too much worry, and last week, Mecklenburg's school board did just that. Amid the angsty arguments and teeth-gnashing over teacher layoffs and bus-route changes, most people didn't notice when the board finally got rid of the oft-maligned CMS-TV, aka Supt. Gorman's personal interview workshop. Was this, as some suggest, the board's rebuke of Gorman for not axing his channel when budgets were first slashed last year? It's doubtful, but either way, getting rid of ol' Channel 3 feels right, even if it saves a mere $350,000 and will only allow CMS to save seven teachers' jobs. We've suggested cutting CMS-TV to save teacher jobs, so we're not complaining about the board's action. But hey, just because CMS-TV is monotonous enough to kill somebody, and as exciting as buying socks, that doesn't mean the channel didn't provide entertainment value now and then -- if only by inspiring daydreams of "Things This Boring Station Should Broadcast." So, as a tribute to the station's longevity, if nothing else, here are our picks for the "Top Seven Moments We Wish We'd Seen On CMS-TV":
7. Former school board member Larry Gauvreau storms out of a board meeting after he and fellow member Vilma Leake start chanting a classic jump-rope ditty at each other: "U-G-L-Y, you ain't got no alibi, you're ugly; yeah, you're ugly."
6. The annual Magnet School Ultimate Fighting Tournament, in which schoolyard brawlers from elite schools climb in the ring and settle their differences.
5. Supt. Peter Gorman, during one of his endless string of interviews with Moira Quinn, explains how he shaves with a new titanium, 10-bladed razor and uses talcum powder afterward, but "I still can't get rid of this friggin' five o'clock shadow."
4. Board member Coach Joe White starts talking in his sleep during budget discussions, referring to former chairperson Molly Griffin as "Good Golly Miss Molly" and "Oh, you red-hot mama."
3. Board member Kaye McGarry illustrates her view of gay students' poisonous influence on school discipline, using 100 Hummel figurines of angels and two small plastic representations of Satan.
2. CMS-TV airs surveillance footage of former board members George Dunlap and Larry Gauvreau, duking it out in the Education Center parking lot.
1. CMS' "Big, One-Time-Only Handgun Auction" fundraiser, featuring weapons confiscated from students. No one under 18 admitted without parent or note from probation officer.