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Truth is Senate ‘cuts’ to education ‘bureaucracy’ mean less accountability and support for teachers, students

The North Carolina Senate leadership likes to derisively refer to the “bureaucracy” to justify cuts to government programs or agencies. But it is that same “bureaucracy” that makes government operate in an open and efficient matter – assuring taxpayers see for themselves, that their money is being put to the intended use – building roads, teaching school children, keeping criminals behind bars, making sure our water and air is clean and so on.

The version of the state budget recently passed in the Senate includes a $13.2 million cut to the Department of Public Instruction. “Frankly, we believe a better use of tax dollars is to move those from an unaccountable bureaucracy and into the classroom where those dollars will actually benefit students,” said Sen. John Chadwick “Chad” Barefoot, R-Wake, a chairman of the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee.

Back the bus up here a bit, Sen. Barefoot.

  • Just how is the N.C. Department of Public Instruction not accountable?
  • Did the Senate really add that $13.2 million to the classrooms?
  • Just what services do those “bureaucrats” at the department provide, that Barefoot and his pals believe are not needed?

Barefoot’s no stranger to the education bureaucracy. He’s a card-carrying member – the Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Louisburg College.

Operating the Department of Public Instruction is big business, and operating it legally, openly and according to state policy is no small task. There are 433 people working at DPI who make sure the policies of the State Board of Education are followed along with state and federal public education laws. These “bureaucrats” see to it that $9.2 billion in state funds; along with $1.5 billion in federal funds, are used by North Carolina’s school districts and charter schools that employ 186,000 teachers and other school workers and serve 1.55 million students.

A $13.2 million cut will eliminate approximately 111 – 25.6 percent — of those positions.

It’s not like bureaucracy, particularly in education hasn’t been attacked and trimmed already. Since the 2008-09 recession, 197 state-paid workers in DPI (31 percent from the pre-recession level) have already been cut.

What do these 433 state-paid Department of Public Instruction “bureaucrats” do at work and why is it important?

  • 71 work in financial and business services. They make sure the more than $9 billion in state school funding is distributed properly to local districts and charters schools and is spent as intended. They track all that money and collect all the data about students as well as monitor the activities of the public schools, prepare financial statements and review all the local audits. The Senate’s cut eliminates 19 of these workers.
  • 65 work in technology services. They oversee the statewide infrastructure and software applications for state Public School System, such as PowerSchool – where all student records, courses, and gradebooks are maintained. The Senate’s cut would eliminate 17 workers.
  • 221 academic services, accountability, and instructional support workers. They develop, implement and support public schools in academic, curriculum, accountability and professional advancement. They make sure:
  • Students are: prepared beyond graduation for work, further education and citizenship; provided a personalized education; and ensured up-to-date technology systems that also assist parents and educators.
  • There are reliable and valid tools and resources to assess all students and that the reports are accurate and statistically appropriate.
  • All staff serving students in the state’s lowest performing schools and districts have the support needed to improve student performance.

The Senate cuts 59 of these jobs.

  • 41 are at the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching. They provide public school teachers and others with unique and comprehensive professional development opportunities. You can equate this to training for your workforce. Ten (10) jobs would be cut.
  • 35 work directly with the state board, the superintendent’s office, communications, human resources, or internal auditing. After accounting for some job shifts and transfers, this area would lose 6 state-paid positions.

To arbitrarily slash positions without any effort to evaluate the need of the services offered will likely end up hurting critical programs public schools need. The State Board of Education has identified several areas where Department of Public Instruction services are not being delivered at the level needed. These needs, outlined in the Expansion Budget request submitted to the governor, shows current staffing levels are insufficient to address the duties the legislature’s mandated.

North Carolina has a long way to go in properly financing education. Teachers need to be paid well and schools need the tools so teachers can be effective. Kids must receive transportation and be fed and support staff must be paid. The Senate’s cut to DPI and their 10 percent cut to local school districts’ Central Office operations will harm delivery of these most basic needs.

It is the “bureaucracy” that assures citizens the job is being done and, in the case of the Department of Public Instruction, that teachers and students get the resources they need.

Note: This piece is reprinted with the permission of the author. It was first published on WRAL Opinion on May 30, 2017.  

Philip Price

Philip Price was chief financial officer of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction from November 2002 through February 2017.