Perdue fuels pushback against NC GOP school cuts

By EMERY P. DALESIO

The Associated Press

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RALEIGH. N.C. (AP) — Gov. Beverly Perdue and her top subordinates are fanning out across North Carolina this week in an effort to rouse public reaction against Republican plans to cut state education spending as legislators close a $2.5 billion budget shortfall.

The blitz comes as local school districts announce hundreds of layoffs and GOP legislators vow to balance the budget without reviving a sales tax expiring in June.

Perdue spoke in Lincolnton on Monday in the first of three scheduled events primarily focused on education spending. She visited a company that announced plans to hire 150 new workers over five years, with the local community college helping train them. Perdue said company executives often want to know whether the quality of area schools will produce the people who will help them make good products for years to come.

"We cannot go backward on education. It's part of who we are as a people in this state and it's what has differentiated us as a leader in the South," Perdue said, according to her staff. "We are North Carolina, and we have chosen to become that because of our generational legacy of education."

Each of the state agency heads hired by her administration will have hit the stump by the end of this week as the governor talks up the importance of protecting the education establishment from sharp cuts. Eight of her cabinet secretaries are fanning out from Manteo to Asheville this week.

"I think she's trying to position for the necessary negotiations that will go on with the budget," House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said in an interview. "She's probably doing it now to get us to moderate some of the policies coming out of the budget."

The planned daily events come as the state Senate hones in on a spending target of $7.1 billion for public elementary and secondary schools, $450 million less than Perdue proposed in February. The Senate target is $106 million lower than the level approved earlier by the state House.

Legislative Republicans cutting a budget shortfall of $2.5 billion say education is 55 percent of state spending and can't be left untouched. Democrats say more than 18,000 jobs in public education could be lost statewide.

That estimate is overstated, GOP leaders said, since many positions are vacant. Local school boards also will have budget flexibility to minimize layoffs and county governments can chip in more than they do now, Republicans said.

"Every time the governor suggests that we spend more, she's suggesting that we tax more," Tillis said, noting that the Democrats' alternative is extending a sales tax expiring in June. "The governor wants to propose a tax increase and we think that does as much harm as good overall."

Perdue's campaign also comes amid local school districts issuing layoff notices to teachers and other employees. State law required school districts to notify by Sunday any non-tenured teachers that they will be laid off, though some may be rehired this summer as district budgets becomes clearer ahead of the new school year.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools sent layoff letters last week to about 740 teachers, counselors, librarians and other staffers. Duplin County school officials announced last week it is cutting 210 positions for the coming school year, including teachers, teacher assistants and others.

Tallies of layoff notices thus far are being compiled by the Department of Public Instruction and the North Carolina School Boards Association, but that work was incomplete Monday.

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Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio