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Educational leaders lay out budget needs to lawmakers

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RALEIGH -- It may be October, but leaders of the North Carolina public school, university, and community college systems are already laying out their preliminary budget priorities.

Leaders from the three systems met with the joint Educational Oversight Committee Tuesday, sharing a list of potential funding needs that range from structure repairs and updated technology to new textbooks and funding programs.

While the state legislature likely won't face a billion dollar deficit, state educational leaders are still preparing for another tight year of funding.

"We have to prioritize; they have to prioritize. And now they're beginning to talk about things we've been trying to push, which are performance pay, efficiency in operation, combining programs, making due with less," said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph.

State Superintendent of Schools June Atkinson said their main concern is eliminating the $376 million in discretionary cuts, while obtaining funding for textbooks, teacher compensation, and programs related to early reading legislation.

"We have to prepare our students to go to the next level of education. We have to prepare them for the workforce, and we need to make sure we use our dollars wisely. But, we need to have dollars to use wisely,” said Atkinson.

The university system has created a committee to help determine their needs, which will likely include millions for enrollment, operations and financial aid and even more for repairs and renovations.

"Major building repairs and some of them are leaky roofs and that sort of thing on campuses. And with the limited repair and renovation money, we've done sort of patching where we can, as best we can,” said UNC President Tom Ross.

Meanwhile, the community college system is looking to focus funding on high demand programs like healthcare and technology, and look for help in the summer months.

"Restarting year-round funding for community colleges is a way for us to meet the job demands that are out there right now,” said Community College System President Scott Ralls.

While it is early in the budget planning stages, school system leaders agree the focus on funding is essential.

"If we don't fund these summer programs, if we don't put some money in there for teachers in terms of performance-based standards that we are requiring, then it won't happen,” said Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford.

Educational leaders will now work to create finalized budget recommendations to propose to the legislature.

The state legislature will likely start tackling the figures next February.

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