UPDATED: As House Speaker Thom Tillis attends town hall forums throughout the state, his reaction to widespread teacher layoffs is surprising.
"I can't answer your question," Tillis told a teaching assistant in Wilmington, who appreciated the answer. "I am sorry that happened to you. But we are going to get to the bottom of that."
"Also, if you have specific examples of a lot of teachers and teacher assistants being laid off, let me know, because that means they’re not following our legislative intent," Tillis told another crowd.
It prompts a question: Does the speaker not know that education budget cuts led to widely publicized layoffs that totaled 534 teachers and 1,260 teaching assistants?
Yes, he knows, said Tillis spokesman Jordan Shaw. But Tillis said his budget funded every teacher and teaching assistant – though it included a $400-plus million cut to school districts' discretionary funding.
The state’s teachers organization is flabbergasted by Tillis’ statements. “He is the most talented politician I’ve seen when it comes to deflecting questions about his budget,” said Brian Lewis, a lobbyist for the N.C. Association of Educators.
Lewis said if districts preserved all teachers and teaching assistants it would have caused “a train wreck” in other areas that would have hurt students. “If you cut discretionary funding, they are going to cut teachers and teacher assistants,” he said.
Each time Tillis hears about teacher cuts, he asks folks to send him more information because he plans to use a legislative oversight committee to examine the cuts. (The committees have yet to be publicly announced.
If he wants the answer, it wouldn’t take him much effort to find it. On the Department of Instruction’s website, there is a spreadsheet that lists cuts by school district. It notes that many teachers were cut in Cumberland County (125), Burke (82) and Gaston (72). Other districts did it just as Tillis asked -- eliminating positions and not actual teachers.
The question is what happens next – and whether the public will buy Tillis’ apparent shock that education cuts led to teacher layoffs.