Budget blocker: paying for pay raises

We’d use the phrase “glacial pace” to describe N.C. Senate and House budget negotiations, except that the heat surrounding them recently would melt the metaphor. Senators and representatives have been spitting at each other for a couple of weeks, each side determined to get its way on teacher pay and Medicaid funding, and last week Gov. McCrory stepped into the line of fire by threatening to veto any budget that shreds public education the way the Senate plan does. Republican senators, whose plan it is, got their back up and let their fangs show with sound bites that could make you mistakenly think the governor was a Democrat, and a dolt of a Democrat at that.

Things have apparently calmed down a little this week. http://tinyurl.com/qb8mv26 The state’s three top (elected) Republicans — Gov McCrory, Sen. Berger and Rep. Tillis — had a “positive dialogue” over lunch without choking or choking each other Tuesday, and that afternoon the Senate came out with a little-less-dreadful budget proposal. It dials back the 11 percent raise for teachers to 8 percent and so reduces the personnel cuts required to pay for the boost. The original House plan would raise teacher pay by 6 percent and not have a significant impact on personnel — but representatives say they will respond to the Senate’s movement by making another offer of their own. http://tinyurl.com/pg2dko6

In other words, we’re not out of the woods yet. Teacher pay raises may be getting all the attention in Raleigh and in the media, but it’s paying for teacher pay raises that worries the state’s school districts. As usual, teacher assistants are in the cross hairs. The original Senate proposal would have cost LCPS nearly $2 million a year and put more than 40 jobs in jeopardy, almost all of them second- and third-grade TAs. The plan announced Tuesday would have less impact but — because it eliminates funding for TAs in the third grade — could mean layoffs and would make a hard job a lot hard, from meeting state standards in the classroom to simply getting kids to school.

Senate budget writers don’t get it. Teacher assistants have a role in educating children in the critical early grades. On the one hand the General Assembly sets tough standards for reading proficiency by third grade, and on the other the Senate wants to cashier thousands of people that can help make that happen. Not only would school districts lose TAs, they would also lose bus drivers, since they are one in the same in many counties, Lenoir included. Some counties — Lenoir among them — go lean on TAs and use a bit of those funds to employ the teachers they need.

Contrary to what Republican senators seem to think, we’re not talking about doing without a few file clerks.

Senators would have heard all this from school superintendents and principals at a budget conference last week if they hadn’t got their butt on their shoulders and walked out, peeved that the House conferees wanted to bring some relevant information into the room. Interestingly, the school leaders put adequate classroom staffing — that is, keeping the TAs — ahead of a whopping pay raise. We imagine most educators feel the same way. They’re willing to settle for less money if it means they’ll be able to do a better job educating young people.