Educator blasts new state budget

First Posted: 8/13/2014

LUMBERTON — A member of the Public Schools of Robeson County Board of Education had one word for state legislators Tuesday when the new state budget for education was discussed.

“Idiots,” said Jo Ann Lowery as she listened to a report from the district’s chief finance officer about the recently passed state budget.

“This is one of the first times in the 14 years I have been here that I feel unprepared due to some of the changes brought on by this budget,” Erica Setzer said. “And we may be seeing even more changes coming from Gov. McCrory, who apparently was unaware of some of the things this budget does.”

Setzer was referring to McCrory’s claim from last week that the budget fully funded teacher assistant positions, when in fact many districts received cuts, including Robeson County.

Robeson County teacher assistants, however, can breathe a sigh of relief after Setzer assured school board members that despite some deep cuts, the county will not lose any teacher assistant jobs.

The 2014-15 state budget, which was signed by the governor on Friday, initially inspired excitement among some educators and school administrators with a promised 7 percent pay raise for teachers. But some previously unreported cuts to teacher longevity wages, as well as to teacher assistant allotments, had many on the school board skeptical.

In Robeson County, the budget calls for a 22 percent reduction, or $1.72 million less, for teacher assistants. Setzer, however, said the district has been given flexibility with its teacher allotment and will be able to use it to offset the reduction. She said that she will not know exactly how much money is available for teacher assistants until next week.

“We can do that, but it will be less funds for supplies, equipment and so forth,” said Superintendent Johnny Hunt. “This is a disgrace. Not only is this bad for our teachers, but it is going to cause more work for Erica. We would need a finance department twice the size of what we have just to keep up with all of this.”

According to Setzer, much of the budget is tied to teacher raises, which replaces teacher longevity pay, and will mean widely varying raises, with newer teachers seeing very high raises, and veteran teachers seeing very little.

“So it may make it easier to recruit new teachers but harder to retain them,” said board member Brenda Fairley-Ferebee.

The Board of Education voted unanimously to draft a resolution against the state budget.

In other business, the school board on Tuesday approved the following assistant principal appointments: Lisa Troy, Fairmont High; Vanessa Robinson, Gilbert Carroll Middle School; Anthony Britt, Lumberton Senior High; Mavis Livingston, Peterson Elementary;Joshua Locklear, Prospect Elementary; Portia Penny, Purnell Swett High; Shaun Seeko, Red Springs High; Jamal Campbell, Red Springs High; and Dallas Locklear, South Robeson High.

The board also:

— Held a policy committee meeting before its regular board meeting to hear concerns about whether or not the district needs to add language to the Robeson County Internet use agreement that states that parents who do not want their children to be photographed or filmed at school events, or while at school, must inform the district before the end of the first 10 days of the school year. The new policy was approved unanimously.

— Updated the 2014-15 testing calendar.

— Received an update on the Read to Achieve program.

— Heard from Amy Haigler, parent coordinator, about the success of this year’s Back to School Celebration, which took place last Wednesday. The annual event attracted more than 20,000 Robeson County students.

— Recognized Demetri Sheridan, of Lumberton Senior High School, for winning the MVP in a high school all-star game.

— Approved the purchase of two trash compactors, one for Lumberton Senior High School and the other for Purnell Swett High School. The compactors are $25,000 each.

According to Tommy Lowry, assistant superintendent, one compactor will be paid for by the school district and the other paid for by the county.