Rhetoric, Reality, and DPI Cuts
After state legislators approved a 10 percent reduction to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s $70 million budget, state education officials and their boosters sounded the alarm. This was not a cut to classroom education, nor to the school districts across North Carolina. This cut targeted bureaucrats in Raleigh.
In an exclusive interview with a left-of-center advocacy group, Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson claimed that N.C. DPI has been “extremely efficient with taxpayer dollars” and outlined some of the recent successes spearheaded by the agency that she directs.
One liberal commentator took it way further (as he is paid to do) and declared that the cut was part of a “long-term war on public education waged by people committed to privatizing the single most important function of state government.” That is a bizarre claim given that the “people” he references increased the public education budget by $1 billion over the last four years.
But enough about overheated, ill-informed spin. To meet the legislative requirement, Superintendent Atkinson said that she planned to eliminate 54 of 450 state-funded staff positions. True to her word, she eliminated 53.5 full-time-equivalent positions. Around 90 percent of those FTEs were vacant positions.
Specifically, Atkinson chucked 47.9 full-time equivalents — all of them vacant positions in residential schools and various departments — and funded 0.6 FTEs using other sources. The $3.2 million saved from jettisoning vacant positions is the largest share of the total $5 million reduction.
In addition, Atkinson saved nearly $580,500 by eliminating five FTEs currently filled. One of these positions belongs to District and School Transformation director Pat Ashley, who (I am told) plans to retire soon. The status of the other four is not known.
The final $1.3 million came from reducing contract services and departmental operations. N.C. DPI will save $600,000 by dropping contracts for superintendent coaches, $50,000 for the state’s school report card website, and $50,000 for curriculum “training and support.” Another $571,000 will come from reductions in travel, computers, and printing for agency staff.
Any negative or positive effects of these cuts on our public school districts will not be known for some time. It does not appear, however, that these cuts will paralyze N.C. DPI or “undermine the General Assembly’s own directives,” as one agency-produced document warned.
In fact, the rhetoric was a far cry from the reality, a fact that may encourage legislative leaders to mandate further reductions to the N.C. DPI budget next year.
“Rhetoric, Reality, and DPI Cuts” was written by Dr. Terry Stoops, Director of Research and Education Studies at the John Locke Foundation. It was originally posted on October 16, 2014 and appears here with permission.