A rural teacher?s retreat in the North Carolina mountains continues to command around $5.5 million in appropriations from the state budget, despite questions about its necessity in lean fiscal times.

As reported by Carolina Journal last year, the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching, a professional development center in Jackson County, picks up the tab for more than 5,000 teachers to attend each year. Weeklong seminar topics include holistic health, pottery, and global warming.

The General Assembly had allocated $7 million to NCCAT during the three fiscal years leading up to 2009. The appropriation has since been trimmed by $1.6 million, and NCCAT’s positions have been reduced by almost 20 percent, according to NCCAT staff.

Even so, top staff continue to command six-figure or near six-figure salaries, and their pay hasn?t been reduced. However, two lower-wage earners, administrative officers, had their pay reduced by almost one-third in September 2009.

In 2008, executive staff got 6 percent raises, double the average amount received by public school teachers.

NCCAT recently celebrated its 25-year anniversary by hosting a gala at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville. Former Gov. Jim Hunt, a Democrat, headlined the event. No taxpayer dollars went into funding the dinner, according to NCCAT staff.

Further cuts to NCCAT could be one small piece of the puzzle as the General Assembly deals with overcoming a projected $3.3 billion budget deficit next year.