Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — North Carolina educators wondered if they could do the same with the 10-hour furlough ordered by Gov. Beverly Perdue to help balance the state budget.
The answer was an emphatic “no,” said Jennifer Lanane, president of the Wake County Chapter of the North Carolina Association of Educators.
“We don’t bargain a contract in this state,” she said. “We’re not a union in the strict sense of the word. We are an association. We are more of a political group. We can’t bargain. We can’t strike. It’s the system we have. It’s the system we work with.”
Perdue mandated that educators and support staff take the 10 hours of unpaid leave (or “flex time”) by Dec. 31; the furloughs cannot be taken during time assigned for student learning. The governor cited the additional cost of hiring substitutes to cover classes as justification for scheduling the furloughs on teacher work days.
“It’s a convoluted system,” Lanane said. “The governor made a rule that teachers could not use the furlough time when they are responsible for kids. They have to take their time off on unprotected teacher work days.”
North Carolina state school Superintendent June Atkinson said it’s a moot point because many teachers took the furlough at the end of last year, or in lieu of a teacher work day.
Other educators have taken time during an early day dismissal to make up for the “mandatory time off,” she said.
“It’s placed on extra burden on the teacher, but there’s been some flexibility,” Atkinson said. “It’s been an hour here or an hour there. It’s all depended on individual school district calendars.”
Atkinson admitted some teachers were disturbed by Perdue’s actions, but others supported the requirement to not take time away from classroom instruction time.
“They said they were professionals,” she said. “They were willing to do what they could to help with the cuts.”
Atkinson said this year’s furlough is “water under the bridge,” and is unsure what will happen during the next fiscal year.
Lanane disagreed, saying the furlough issue is far from over.
“Right now, it’s a tug-of-war with the governor,” she said. “People are still pretty angry about the furlough time. It’s not a happy day in North Carolina.”
Lanane said many teachers are reeling from the law and are untrusting of the governor, who used education issues for her election platform.
“Gov. Perdue was supposed to be a big education governor,” she said. “She has not been as attentive to education as we had hoped.”
Similar to their Hawaii counterparts, the teacher furloughs were a strategic political move, said Terry Stoops, education policy analyst for the John Locke Foundation.
He said N.C. legislators could have easily trimmed the fat from the budget by first cutting nonessential state personnel and extraneous nonteaching positions.
“Without a doubt, there were ways to cut expenses,” Stoops said. “Instead, they decided to trim teaching positions.”
Lenoir County resident Carol Irwin, a mother of both gifted and slow learners, believes legislators could save a lot of money in the long run if they reorganized the education system entirely, taking the lead from its European counterparts.
“[Europeans] have some basic standardized testing at the end of eighth grade, and then the children are split into vocational or academic tracks,” she said. “They all still receive a good education, just with different emphases.”
Stoops said this would have been a good year for the N.C. General Assembly to remove its cap on charter schools, which limits the number of charters at 100 statewide.
“It would have been a powerful choice,” he said. “If North Carolina would increase the amount of charter schools, we would be eligible for additional federal government funding.”
Stoops was referring to the Race to the Top Program, a $4.35 billion federal initiative providing money to states that demonstrate improvements in public schools. The Obama administration has said that states capping the number of charters may not be eligible for the competitive grants.
Karen Welsh is a contributor to Carolina Journal.