Mark DiBiasio for unioncountyweekly.com, June 10, 2011:
In a unanimous vote, the Union County School Board eliminated 26 teacher positions by dissolving the elementary school level Spanish language program. A budget savings of approximately $1.3 million is expected, even with a promise by the school administration to find jobs for the displaced teachers.
“Union County children, some who are now adults in a changing world, have been beneficiaries of elementary school exposure to a foreign language and culture.” said Paula McGuire, a teacher at Sandy Ridge Elementary, who read a joint letter from Spanish language teachers, “We feel it’s a shame to let this program end because a temporary state level revenue problem.”
“We understand that if this program does not provide what it needs to provide, we can work collaboratively to fine tune it, rather than sacrifice our children’s future.” McGuire said during public comments. She spoke of the need for children to learn the positive aspects of a foreign language and culture to blunt the negative Hispanic stereotyping so prevalent today.
UCPS Superintendent, Dr. Ed Davis reflected on budget issues during his report regular report to School Board members, noting the increased cuts in discretionary funding. “Right now, things are too much up in the air to give you a definite recommendation.” Davis said, “We have to wait to see if the Governor vetoes or not.”
“What concerns me is the $11.5 million cut in [Senate-House approved budget] discretionary funding.” Davis said, “We can offset that somewhat with the $7.5 million in Edu-job funding, but that money won’t be there next year.”
The Educations Jobs fund was a $10 billion Federal program that provided monies to local school districts to retain existing staff, hire new staff, restore reductions in salaries or implement salary increases. North Carolina was awarded $298 million in Edu-job funds last September 2010. Union County chose to not it utilize the funds until this year, well within the Federal requirements to spend the monies by September 2012.
“We estimate the next years [budget] cuts will be $13.5 million” Davis said, “but going forward, I do want to move on the recommendation of the elimination of the elementary Spanish program.”
“We already know we have a $8.5 million budget cut and that is going to effect class size” Davis said, “and class sizes have grown all across the board.”
“I met with the Spanish teachers, I think they understand the reasons for the cuts, they may not agree with it, but they understand it” Davis continued, “I want you [the board] to know that elementary school principals are all on board with this, [eliminating the Spanish language program] as are the all Budget Development committees.”
“Even though Ed Davis is taking responsibility for this recommendation and decision,” Davis said, “I did not make this decision in a vacuum and I didn’t make it alone, there was a lot of input over the course of the year.”
The only Board member to speak on the motion to eliminate the program was Carolyn Lowder. “I requested a couple of meetings ago that this board make a public statement about these budget cuts” Lowder said, “it is damaging to our school system and to our children, but this board declined to do that.”
I must say, that I feel forced to support Dr. Davis’ recommendation simply because of the stark reality with what we have to deal with.” Lowder said, “but to say that’s not hurting children, I can not say that. To say that it’s [budget cuts] are not hurting our system, I can not say that and this is the first public demonstration of the damage that being done”.
“My heart goes out to you folks that are sitting out there tonight, your jobs are on the line” Lowder said, “we don’t have taxing authority, we have to go to the Commissioners ask for funding and I think we should have been far more aggressive in doing that, but that was a board decision.”