Open Letter to Sen. Bill Rabon – Be a Civil Servant and Allow House Bill 13 to Come to the Senate Floor

class size rose

Dear Senator Rabon,

I was disheartened as a public school teacher to learn that House Bill 13, which earned unanimous support in the state House, has been tabled in the state Senate, a situation that you could easily remedy.

And I am incensed as a parent of a special needs child in a public elementary school that this may very well cause local school districts to cut teacher assistant positions to fulfill a shortsighted legal statute concerning class sizes.

Last Sunday my hometown newspaper, the Winston-Salem Journal, reported in “Schools could cut assistants to hire more teachers, meet class size requirements,”

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools district has started contingency planning in case the N.C. General Assembly doesn’t pass a bill that would give schools relief from impending class size reductions.

The district will keep any teacher assistants hired from now until the end of the school year on temporary employee rolls in an effort to avoid layoffs over the summer. If the state mandate on smaller class sizes kicks in, district leaders say they might be forced to cut some teacher assistant positions for next school year in order to keep offering art, music and physical education classes (http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/schools-could-cut-assistants-to-hire-more-teachers-meet-class/article_9440fea2-c230-5128-8cff-270cefb7d83b.html).

And today Billy Ball in NC Policy Watch reported in “School officials preparing to fire thousands of specialty teachers in order to meet K-3 classroom mandate,”

(Linda) Welborn, a Republican member of the Guilford County Board of Education, says her district—the third largest in the state—will need to find an additional $16.6 million and 242 new teaching positions to meet the state’s legislative mandate to cut class sizes for kindergarten through third grade beginning next school year.

“We would have to make such drastic cuts, we literally don’t know where we would come up with the money,” says Welborn. “You just don’t do that unless you have absolutely no choice but to do it.”

All across North Carolina, districts like Guilford County say a statutory loss of flexibility over class size may soon yield massive job losses statewide among arts, music and physical education teachers, as well as teacher assistants (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/04/06/school-officials-preparing-fire-thousands-specialty-teachers-order-meet-k-3-classroom-mandate/).

And what made that news so hard to digest was what Ball stated later.

One bipartisan-supported reprieve to the looming class size order, House Bill 13, gained unanimous approval in the state House in February, but despite advocates’ calls for urgent action this spring, the legislation has lingered in the Senate Rules Committee with little indication it will be taken up soon.

Sen. Bill Rabon, the influential eastern North Carolina Republican who chairs the committee, did not respond to Policy Watch interview requests, but his legislative assistant said this week that Rabon’s committee will not consider any House bills until the General Assembly’s April 27 crossover deadline.

Senator, this is unacceptable, especially in light of comments and stances you have taken in the past.

Consider what was reported in the summer of 2014 in the Wilimington StarNews Online edition for July 21st.

Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the “jury is still out” on the final budget and he can’t give teacher assistants a “definite how it’s going to come out in the wash.” Still, Rabon said he didn’t think the final budget would result in teacher assistants being laid off.

“It would be nice if we can work out an agreement to keep them, and I’m sure we will work toward that end,” Rabon said.

Rabon argues that the state is spending too much money on Medicaid and not enough on education and said an agreement could be reached on funding teacher assistants if the House would agree to make cuts to the program that provides health care for people who are poor and disabled (http://www.starnewsonline.com/news/20140721/funds-for-teacher-assistants-in-doubt).

Well, considering that NC now is bragging about a surplus and is also bragging about not having expanded Medicaid, is funding education fully still a priority in your eyes because it appears that we as a state are not spending too much on Medicaid.

In May of 2014, you gave an interview to WHQR’s Katie O’Reilly concerning your stances on state issues (http://whqr.org/post/candidate-profile-bill-rabon-r-nc-senate-district-8#stream/0). This is what you said about public education:

“I would like to see all teachers—I would like to see all state employees, for that matter—have an increase in salary. Hopefully we can get there; it’s gonna take revenue reform, or tax reform, to do that. It’s going to take a change in the way the state does business to do that. The conundrum is, where do we get the money? Fifty-six cents or so out of every dollar that is spent in Raleigh now goes to education. Maybe we’re spending that fifty-six cents in the wrong place. Maybe the legislature should step back, and look at the forest, and stop looking at the tree, and say a dedicated portion of that money must go to teacher salary. And give a little more direction, if you will, to those people that are spending the money that the taxpayers are sending to us. The legislature doesn’t spend the money; we allocate the money. Maybe we should give them a little more direction.”

I appreciate your wanting to pay teachers and state employees more. I hope that also included wanting to teach teacher assistants more.

Yet that question you asked in the above quote is what confuses me. You asked, “Where do we get the money?” That’s the same exact question that each local school district is asking right now to come into compliance with a law you and your cronies in Raleigh have put on the books. And yet you seem to complain about how much money the state is spending on education: fifty-six cents on the dollar.

Fifty-six cents out of each dollar sounds like a lot the way you put it.

But you grossly misrepresent the situation.

Actually, the state is supposed to finance public education at that level because the North Carolina State Constitution stipulates it. That’s the same constitution you’re sworn to uphold.

The Public School Forum of North Carolina’s publication the 2014 Local School Finance Study provides a great history of the state’s practice in funding public schooling which is rooted in the proclamation that all children in the state ages 6-21 are guaranteed a good public education.

The state has the responsibility for the financing of basic functions for public education like salaries for personnel, services for special-needs students, technology, professional development, even textbooks. To say that the state spends 56%of its budget on public education and then consider that to be the end-all-and-be-all to the argument is really ignoring the reasons why such a dynamic exists.

In the past before your tenure in the NC Senate began, the state spent an even higher percentage on public education because THAT IS WHAT THE STATE CONSTITUTION DECLARED. Those percentages of spending are not a badge of honor that this General Assembly gets to wear; it was earned many decades ago. The fact that the percentage is getting lower actually is not a positive sign for this General Assembly. It is a reflection that the NCGA’s level of commitment to public education is wavering.

Since most of the state funding goes to salaries of certified and classified employees, the fact the percentage of funds from the state is not higher than it was in years past is indicative of the stagnated salaries NC gives to teachers and assistants. With the elimination of funds for professional development and talk of cutting thousands of teaching assistants, how can you brag about the level of money spent on public schooling?

In 2015, you became fairly well-known for a supposed “hit list” of 56 DOT jobs on the principle that more and more government jobs should be moved to the private sector. Never mind that a recent investigative report by WBTV out of Raleigh entitled “Senator steers millions in NCDOT contracts while taking campaign cash” talked about how you possibly benefitted from privatizing former government jobs (http://www.wbtv.com/story/34548894/senator-steers-millions-in-ncdot-contracts-while-taking-campaign-cash) .

What is ironic is that the three counties you fully represent (Bladen, Brunswick, and Pender) actually rely on the public school system to educate over 85% of the school aged children who reside there if numbers from the EdNC.org Data Dashboard for 2014-2015 are still consistent.

If you investigate the EdNC.org Data Dashboard even further, you may recognize that the three counties you represent also have very high levels of students receiving free and reduced lunches. Bladen County alone has over 90% who qualify. Certainly the refusal to expand Medicaid has affected people in your district as well.

Poverty, health, hunger all have effects on education.

What is more ironic is that in both Brunswick and Pender counties, the local LEA (public school district) is the NUMBER 1 EMPLOYER in the county. In Bladen County, the LEA is the second largest employer.

So the very entities that educate the vast majority of your constituents’ children and employ more people than any other entity may be compromised even further because of your unwillingness to put forth a bill that could do nothing but help?

All in the name of smaller class sizes and smaller government while we are experiencing an economic upswing?

If Guilford and Forsyth counties are having to consider letting go of teacher assistants, then I can only imagine what might happen in rural counties like the ones you represent.

Even just last week, DPI and retired Congresswoman Eva Clayton hosted an “Advocacy Day for Making Rural School Districts a Priority in North Carolina.” They called together leaders, educators, and policy makers to discuss issues that affect rural school districts – districts like Bladen, Brunswick, and Pender counties. Don’t complicate their situation by forcing them to make cuts to vital resources and personnel.

Allowing House Bill 13 to come to the floor would be a great step in the right direction. However, your lack of action would be a giant leap backwards.

 

 

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