Cuts Hurt Our Kids–DAE’s School Budget Update

It’s budget season again, and we’re writing to catch people up on where things are and what DAE has in the works.  For those that don’t have a ton of time to read the full explanation, we’ll start with the action steps.

Actions

  1. Sign this NCAE petition and circulate it broadly in your buildings and on social media. PLEASE use PERSONAL (i.e. NOT DPS) emails.  Our goal is 1000 signatures from Durham alone.  Please add your name and circulate this petition widely.
  2. Work with other educators and/or school administrators to plan for a special “We ❤ Our Arts, Languages, and PE” Red 4 Ed next Wednesday. Like every Wednesday, we are asking people to wear red, gather staff for a photo, and post it to the DAE facebook page with the hashtag #red4ed.  But next Wednesday (March 22), we are asking for photos and activities that speak to the importance of these essential subjects in our school.  You could do something that demonstrates how much value these courses add.  You could do something that shows what your school would look like without them.  Use your creativity and engage your school community.
  3. Join us at the DPS School Board meeting on Thursday, March 23 at 6:30 at 511 Cleveland St. We’ll be showing up in Red to hear the Superintendent’s budget proposal and the Board’s discussion.  Please click this link to let us know if you are coming.
  4. Get your building involved in the Schools Our Students Deserve campaign. Email me at dae4ourstudents@gmail.com or call at 919-210-9256 to get your school involved.

Background

North Carolina spends $300 less per student than it did in 2008, in the midst of the recession.  That has meant dramatic cuts for districts all over the state.  Durham has had its share of reductions, but the district has largely handled the deficit problems by:

  • Spending down its fund balance (savings account)
  • Asking the County Commission to increase funding to fill the holes left by the state’s underfunding. Because Durham has a sizeable tax base and the County has usually responded to requests for increases, this has helped stave off some of the worst impacts.  Some counties, like Cumberland, have seen layoffs that number over 1000.

For the last 6-7 years, this combination of moves has allowed DPS to adjust without laying off large numbers of staff, and most reductions have happened through people retiring/moving on and their positions going unfilled.  The impact on our classrooms has varied, and charter infiltration has mitigated some of the over-crowding, but there are swollen classrooms all over the district, and we are all clear that we are doing more with less.

This Year

Last year, the state passed a law that lowered the class size cap for grades K-3, which is positive.  What they failed to do, however, was properly fund the mandate.  The law is problematic for so many reasons (i.e. to meet the demands, some districts would have to construct new buildings in a very short period of time, and without the money to fund the projects), and it has left local school districts with few options but to consider cutting “specials” to fund additional classroom positions.

“Specials”, for DAE/NCAE, are not “special,” they are essential.  Our students cannot achieve their full potential on reading, writing, math, and science alone.  They need to have engaged and creative opportunities to use their whole brain.  They need spaces to learn about their bodies, and exercise, and nutrition.  They need to learn how to communicate with each other and broaden their understanding of the world.

Where This Leaves Us

In Durham, these problems (chronic underfunding from the state and the unfunded mandate on class size reduction) have left us with a couple dilemmas:

  • If the state doesn’t pass HB 13 or a similar measure, we face devastating cuts to arts, languages, and PE that will mean a loss of both programs and A LOT of jobs.
  • Because the state is underfunding our schools and DPS has spent down almost all of its fund balance, we are facing upwards of $8 million in additional cuts, including a loss of positions.

Both of these outcomes would be devastating.

There is a lot in the air right now, but there are lots of conversations happening between DPS and the Board of County Commissioners.  DAE has already begun having conversations with DPS and County Commission officials to generate possible solutions.

Decision-Making Process

The timeline for decision making looks roughly like this:

  • March 23–> DPS School Board discusses early budget proposals. Initial proposals have been released and conversations are already moving, but this proposal will be the opening of the formal conversations between the DPS administration and the School Board.
  • April–> DPS Board will work with the Superintendent and anyone who chooses to engage to arrive at an ask that they will make to the County Commission.
  • May/June–>The County Commissioners will discuss their budget proposals and consider the funding of DPS, ultimately voting on a county budget in June.

Our Next Steps

Because there is so much up in the air right now, it is difficult to say exactly what our ask will be.  We are having meetings with school board members and county commissioners already, and we are planning to keep close watch as the process unfolds.  In the meantime, we are asking all educators, parents, and supporters to commit to taking action in the ways listed at the top of this email.  We feel hopeful that we can fight off some of the worst impacts of this year’s budget crisis, but we are facing significant obstacles.  Please stay plugged in and prepare to act in any/all of the ways that are possible for you.

Organizing for Power

If students, parents, educators, and our community supporters act together, there is very little that we cannot accomplish.  But we will need to engage each other in new ways and build strong teams in every building in the district.  Please consider joining DAE in this effort and helping to organize your building.  We can coach you and support you and get you all of the resources that you need.  Please let us know if you’re interested.  We NEED your leadership today.

Please contact me at dae4ourstudents@gmail.com or 919-210-9256 if you would like to get your school community involved.

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