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DPI budget cuts: Rhetoric and reality

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Earlier this year, the North Carolina General Assembly mandated that the N.C. Department of Public Instruction trim its budget by 10 percent. 

In this week’s CommenTerry, I detail how they did it.  (Hint: They mostly eliminated a bunch of vacant positions.)

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After state legislators approved a ten percent reduction to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) $70 million budget, state education officials and their boosters sounded the alarm.

In an exclusive interview with N.C. Policy Watch, Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson claimed that N.C. DPI has been "extremely efficient with taxpayer dollars" and outlined some of the recent successes spearheaded by the agency that she directs.  One liberal commentator took it way further (as he is paid to do) and declared that the cut was part of a "long-term war on public education waged by people committed to privatizing the single most important function of state government."  That is a bizarre claim given that the "people" he references increased the public education budget by $1 billion over the last four years.

Anyway, to meet the legislative requirement, Superintendent Atkinson said that she planned to eliminate 54 of 450 state-funded staff positions.  True to her word, she eliminated 53.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions.  Around 90 percent of those FTEs were vacant positions (See Facts and Stats below).

Specifically, Atkinson chucked 47.9 full-time equivalents (FTE) — all of them vacant positions in residential schools and various departments — and funded 0.6 FTEs using other sources.  The $3.2 million saved from jettisoning vacant positions is the largest share of the total $5 million reduction. 

In addition, Atkinson saved nearly $580,500 by eliminating 5 FTEs currently filled.  One of these positions belongs to District and School Transformation director Pat Ashley, who (I am told) plans to retire soon.  The status of the other four is not known.

The final $1.3 million came from reducing contract services and departmental operations.  N.C. DPI will save $600,000 by dropping contracts for superintendent coaches, $50,000 for the state’s school report card website, and $50,000 for curriculum "training and support."  Another $571,000 will come from reductions in travel, computers, and printing for agency staff.

Any negative or positive effects of these cuts on our public school districts will not be known for some time.  It does not appear, however, that these cuts will paralyze N.C. DPI or "undermine the General Assembly’s own directives," as one agency-produced document warned.  In fact, the rhetoric was a far cry from the reality, a fact that may encourage legislative leaders to mandate further reductions to the N.C. DPI budget next year.

Facts and Stats

2014-15 N.C. DPI Budget Reductions

Contract Reductions


Staff development services, consultants, supplemental services, surveys


Operational Budget Reductions


Travel, computers, printing


Vacant Positions To Abolish


Residential Schools vacant >16 months (23.0 FTEs)


District & School Transformation (6.0 FTEs)


Office of Early Learning (8.0 FTEs)


Information Technology (4.5FTEs)


Career and Technical Education (.9FTE)


Exceptional Children (2.5 FTE)


Academic & Digital Learning (1 FTE)


Testing (1 FTE)


Financial and Business Services (1 FTE)


Filled Positions To Abolish  (5 FTEs)


Information Technology, New Schools Project, District and School Transformation, etc.




Source: N.C. Department of Public Instruction, "2014-15 DPI Reduction [spreadsheet]," September 13, 2014

Acronym of the Week

DPI — Department of Public Instruction

Quote of the Week

"We’re abolishing approximately 54 positions out of roughly 450 state-funded staff positions."

– N.C. Policy Watch quoting June Atkinson, N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction

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Dr. Stoops is the director of the Center for Effective Education. Before joining the Locke Foundation in 2005, he worked as the program assistant for the Child Welfare Education Programs at the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work. He… ...

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