by Laura Smith,
Last Tuesday, North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue made an announcement that cuts in salaries in exchange for 10-hour furloughs for state workers will be instituted.
“Don’t you all think it’s over now because we’ve got a long way to go before North Carolina has fully recovered,” she said.
Perdue’s plan requires all state workers to give back one-half of 1 percent of their salaries by June 30 in order to get 10 hours of unpaid time off that they must use by Dec. 31.
These furloughs will affect 1,413 state workers based in Guilford County alone and will amount to $65 million saved statewide.
In addition, Perdue has had to cut $3.2 billion from the state budget in order to pay the state’s bills.
The rest of the money she needs is made up from economic stimulus funds, money from North Carolina’s “rainy day” account and from trust funds and other specialized accounts, all equaling $935 million.
“We’re certainly not thrilled with the aspect of employees not getting paid,” said Erica Baldwin, assistant director of communications for the State Employees Association of North Carolina. “This was a last resort. We’re fighting against other furloughs in the new budget year (which begins July 1).”
Baldwin said she is most concerned about sectors such as the Department of Correction, Highway Patrol, the mental health industry, public safety and public health.
“Those roles are just vital to making sure our highways and communities are safe,” she said. Most affected by this announcement will be public school teachers, since they receive paychecks in a nine-month increment instead of 12 like other state employees.
“We are very concerned that this had to happen on the backs of public school employees and other state employees,” said North Carolina Association of Educators President Sheri Strickland in an April 28 statement. “But when you’re talking about a billion dollars, we do believe the governor did the best that she could to not cut jobs and to not increase class sizes. This seemed to be the only logical, reasonable way that she was able to find to the money that she is required by the constitution to have in order to have a balanced budget.”
Interim Dean of the Elon University School of Education, Judith Howard, was also disappointed to hear about the impact these cuts will have on North Carolina’s education system.
“This is a bit more difficult for teachers than other state employees because it is a full cut,” she said. “Teachers will support it, though, in the hope it won’t have to be done again next year.”
Howard estimates teachers will expect to see about $150-$250 taken from their May paychecks.
She hopes some federal funding from Obama’s recovery act will be given to the school districts, especially in professional development, which trains teachers in skills and knowledge. ”I’m hoping it gives us what needs to be done in our school systems,” Howard said.
Most of all, she does not want to see class size increase or positions cut. ”None of us quite know for sure how quickly we’ll come out of this,” she said. “None of us really want it to impact our public schools.”
Strickland is urging North Carolina residents to call their legislators and request cuts be made from somewhere other than the education system.
“We all need to be one voice,” Strickland said.
On May 16, the N.C. Association of Educators will hold a rally at its headquarters in Raleigh to protest these cuts.