Chris Fitzsimon: The biggest ‘plant’ closing of the year – education

By Chris Fitzsimon

Columnist

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Plant closings and layoffs always draw headlines. The Charlotte Observer reported two weeks ago that a surgical supply company was closing its Statesville facility and laying off the 124 employees who work there.

Associated Press reported the same week that a hand sanitizer plant in Scotland County was closing, putting 70 more people out of work. Last week the Watauga Democrat reported that an electronics plant in Boone was closing; 143 people work there.

Layoffs and factory closings are always big news in local communities and they should be, as hundreds of families are directly affected and the area’s economy feels the blow. Politicians are often quoted too, promising both to help the displaced workers and making a commitment to try to create more jobs in the area.

Imagine the headlines if a plant that employed 2,400 people was closing or a project that promised to bring 6,000 jobs to a region of North Carolina was cancelled, the jobs never to appear.

That’s exactly the news that Wednesday brought, that 2,418 people had lost their jobs and a total of 6,307 potential jobs were lost. But it wasn’t a plant that was closing. The numbers came from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and were gathered from 113 of the state’s 115 school districts.

More than 500 teachers were laid off, more than 1,200 teacher assistants are now out of work and more than 6,000 positions were eliminated this school year, all because the General Assembly slashed $400 million dollars from the public education budget.

But these layoffs are somehow different to political leaders and often to the media who treat them as a political story, a dispute between Democrats and Republicans.

More than 2,400 people lost their jobs. They are now unemployed because the Republican legislative leaders decided to stop paying their salaries. They closed the plant. That is the story, but Republicans don’t want it to be told.

Senator Jerry Tillman told the News & Observer that the Republicans “did all they could” in education and that they actually added teacher positions. Both of those statements are patently false.

They did not do all they could, they chose to cut taxes and fire teachers instead of leaving taxes the same and protecting teachers and public schools from the dramatic cuts.

Tillman used to say that the Republicans budget funded every teacher and teacher assistant position. He appears to have backed off that absurd claim now that we know that more than 1,200 teacher assistants were fired. Now he just talks about teachers, but that’s a falsehood too.

House Speaker Thom Tillis says legislative committees will investigate to see if “any” school systems were affected “impacted disproportionately.” What an oddly silly quest. Almost all of them were affected dramatically. The ones that weren’t had federal stimulus money left over to pay teachers for one more year.

The stimulus money will all be gone next year, meaning that several thousand more teachers will be fired unless the General Assembly comes up with the additional funding to save them. It is a massive hole built into next year’s budget, a structural deficit that Tillis claims the Republicans eliminated.

And the layoffs announced Wednesday are just from public schools. Universities and community colleges are also letting thousands of people go and then there are the layoffs in the rest of state government.

That is an awfully big plant that closed this week. That’s the real headline and there are more big closings to come. And Tillis and his Republican colleagues are the ones shuttering the doors.

Chris Fitzsimon is executive director at N.C. Policy Watch