Threat of Teacher Layoffs Overstated in North Carolina

Published October 11, 2010

Thousands of teachers throughout North Carolina received pink slips last spring, informing them of impending job losses in the 2010-11 school year. Protest marches followed, a media blitz ensued, and newspapers across the state deemed the layoffs “catastrophic” and “disastrous.”

Once the publicity died down, however, most school boards quietly finalized their operating budget for the new school year and hired many of those same pink-slipped teachers back.

Most school districts across North Carolina recalled a majority of their pink-slipped teachers, minimizing classroom losses before U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA.) called members of Congress back from their summer vacations in August to approve an emergency $10 billion spending package on public education.

‘Creating a Crisis’
The additional funds from Congress were on top of the $100 billion the U.S. Department of Education received through the recent stimulus bill, and billions of dollars in “Race to the Top” education funding.
“It happens all the time,” said Lindsey Burke, an education policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. “School districts send out all of these pink slips before their budgets are final, then they rescind them. They are creating a crisis.”

Guilford County Schools is one example. Earlier this year, 160 teachers received layoff notices. But Laurie Hogan, program administrator for communications in the district, said the layoffs never transpired.

“We waited until the budget unfolded, and most of the teachers were rehired,” she said. “The rest left the school system through normal attrition, retirement, and the population in schools changing.”

Cost Shifts Insufficient
In addition to the infusion of federal money, totaling $380 million for North Carolina, state Sen. Richard Stevens (R-Wake), cochairman of the Senate Education Committee, said the state shifted $120 million from lottery funds to pay teacher salaries.

Burke said such cost-shifting is an insufficient fix, putting a band aid on what could become a fatal fiscal wound.

“The bailout just exacerbates the problem,” she said. “It stops school boards from creating reform and easing the taxpayers’ burden by better targeting resources and reducing spending.”

Stevens agrees. “It’s a half-billion dollars,” he said. “It was important for us to give the monies this year, but it put off for another year how the state is going to pay for the positions next year. It’s a temporary solution.”

Top-Heavy Administration
Burke said drastic cuts are needed, as the growing number of administrators creates top-heavy staffing in school districts. If administrative staffs were reduced, she said, there would be enough funding in place to keep teachers in the classrooms instead of announcing layoffs that may or may not be rescinded.

Even though K-12 student enrollment hasn’t increased nationwide since the 1970s, Burke said, non-teaching staff positions have surged by 83 percent over that time. The percentage of instructional staff at schools has shrunk in recent years, from 70 percent to 51 percent.

“Lack of funding isn’t what plagues public education,” she said. “There are just more and more administrators added to school systems and [fewer] classroom teachers. It’s really jarring when you think of it that way. There is room to stop education spending that would stop the bleeding and not jeopardize teachers or the classroom. They need to stop the continuous hiring of non-teaching positions. It’s a festering, unsustainable plan.”

‘Total Waste of Money’
Hans Plotseneder, a business and German teacher at West Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, said he decided to run for the school board in 2011 because of the waste he has witnessed in his decade of teaching in the school system.

“There are 9,000 non-classroom personnel in the CMS district,” he said. “Out of this, there are more than 1,700 administrators in the downtown office. If you compare this to any other company of the same size across the United States, [it] would have 150 people in corporate headquarters. It is a total waste of money.”

Plotseneder said he was appalled when 600 teachers were given notice last spring that they would have to vacate their positions. Meantime, administrative positions remained virtually untouched.

Karen Welsh ([email protected]) is a contributor to Carolina Journal, published by the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, North Carolina, in which this article first appeared. Reprinted with permission