NC state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) recently speculated publicly about selling off state assets — like a hospital and a railroad — to help state government get its financial affairs in order. Of course, the Chapel Hill – Carrboro crowd is P.O.’ed:
In a school district proud of its public education, Union County residents told Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis on Friday that they didn’t know how much longer they could do more with less.
More than 50 residents attended the meeting at Cuthbertson High School, where Principal Rob Jackson was recently recognized as the 2011 Wells Fargo North Carolina Principal of the Year.
“I am very, very concerned,” said Ed Davis, superintendent of Union County Public Schools. “We have whittled and whittled. We’ve done everything we can to protect the classroom. We’re down to the point where we’re going to hit the classroom really hard this year.”
Davis said that this year, the school system faced $13.5 million in discretionary budget cuts.
Outside the meeting, liberal advocacy group Progress NC displayed 1,800 bright pink Post-it notes, each representing a teacher or teacher’s assistant that was laid off after the state budget cuts.
The figure comes from a report that the Department of Public Instruction released in August.
“We’re trying to point out the gaping discrepancy about promises that lawmakers have made about protecting the classroom,” said Gerrick Brenner, executive director of Progress NC. “What they’ve said does not jibe with what’s really going on.”
Before Friday’s meeting, Tillis defended the recently passed education budget, which cut funds by about 5.8 percent.
Tillis said that in the line item for teacher and teacher assistant money, the dollar figure remained the same.
“We gave (the school districts) clear direction that they needed to cut outside of the classroom,” he said.
Tillis told residents he is looking for ways to put money back into the school budget. One possibility would be to sell some of the state’s assets, including a state hospital valued at $1.2 billion and a railroad valued at $250 million.
“I sure hope all that can be done to help us out next year,” Davis told Tillis.
ProgressNC also whined to their other favorite publication, The Raleigh News & Observer:
In his town hall forums, House Speaker Thom Tillis continues to get tough questions about how to better fund schools.
On Friday in Waxhaw, he gave a long-winded answer suggesting that new taxes and fees aren’t on the table for consideration until the state looks at selling off unneeded assets. (Read a Charlotte Observer report on the visit here.)
He first mentioned selling Rex Hospital: “We own a hospital that is valued at somewhere over $1.2 billion,” Tillis said. “We are looking at: should we continue be in that business, it’s a very contentious issue. But the last time I checked there’s a lot of hospitals not owned by the state that are doing just fine. And is there a way to free that up and use some of the money for the university system which owns it and use some of the money for education and health and human services purposes.”
Next he highlighted a potential sale of the North Carolina Railroad: “We are the only state in the country that owns a railroad,” he said, noting its value at $200-250 million. “If other states figured out how not to own a railroad, and do just fine, could we?”
The folks at ProgressNC, who posted the video, used the answer to suggest that Tillis “still can’t get his story straight.” They note that he previously blamed teacher layoffs on local superintendents.
I agree with The Speaker that we need to sell off things the state really doesn’t need to be owning like — oh — a hospital or a railroad. I am hesitant about backing his premise that money needs to be put back in education. The leftists will never, never, never be satisfied with the level of appropriations to public education.
“Education” has moved beyond teaching students things to help them be productive in life and more toward the simple harvesting of taxpayer funds. You could dump the ENTIRE state budget into “education,” and the education establishment would still not be satisfied.
Tillis has a background in business. He should treat the state budget like he would the budget in his business — study spending habits to ensure things are being handled in the most efficient, effective way possible. I am sure you could work with the existing pool of money devoted to “education” to improve the delivery of education services and more than meet all of the needs of students.
But THAT is not the education establishment’s goal. They want ALL the money, and none of the responsibility or accountability. If we keep playing this game, we’re going to sink deeper into debt, and our kids are gong to fall further behind the rest of the world.
Tillis is right to aggressively pursue the idea of selling off state assets like Rex and the railroad. His backpedaling and pandering to the education establishment is not helpful.