The Fayetteville Observer took a closer look this weekend at how things will play out at local elementary schools if Cumberland County and surrounding areas are forced to cut hundreds of teacher assistants from classrooms in exchange for reducing class sizes.
Many say sacrificing TAs for smaller classes isn’t a good tradeoff.
“The perceived benefit of hiring more teachers would be minimal,” said Todd Yardis, Baldwin Elementary’s principal.
For one thing, he said, whenever the budget is approved, it will be after Baldwin’s school year has started. If the school then has to add classes to reduce class sizes, it would be chaotic for students and teachers alike, he said.
Yardis said mid- to late summer isn’t an ideal time to hire good teachers, especially if hundreds of other elementary schools in the state are also looking to hire. Most of the good teachers will already have landed jobs, he said.
“We’re having trouble finding teachers as it is,” he said.
Yardis doesn’t think smaller class sizes would alleviate the problems created by the loss of teacher assistants.
“The research says, and I’ve seen it myself, if you reduce class size by a few kids, it doesn’t change what the teacher does,” Yardis said. “If you’re talking to 20 kids, or 17 kids, the teacher is saying the same thing.”
But a teacher assistant can work one-on-one or in small groups with struggling children, freeing the teacher to teach the rest of the class.
“They’re really instructional assistants,” Yardis said. “Their number one job is to work with children.”
Yardis also said years ago, each classroom had more teacher assistants, which was especially important because many young children need intensive one-on-one support to succeed.
Senate lawmakers have proposed a 2015-17 budget that would cut more than 8,500 teacher assistants’ jobs in exchange for reducing class size.
The June 30 end of the fiscal year has already come to pass, and lawmakers passed a continuing resolution to keep state government operations running but failed to clarify what local school districts should expect when it comes to funding for teacher assistants.
Winston-Salem/Forsyth schools have already laid off 30 teacher assistants, and school officials hope that more layoffs aren’t on the horizon.
“We still have our fingers crossed that the compromise (budget) will not cut deeper than 110 positions,” Crutchfield said.
Crutchfield said the district would have to lay people off after they were already planning to report to work in August.
At Wednesday’s rally, teacher assistants across the state said they don’t know whether or not they’ll have a job in a month.
Diane Pfundstein, a retired teacher assistant who came back part-time at Mineral Springs Elementary School last year, said officials at her school said they’re not sure if there will be a job for her when school starts in August.
“It’s very sad,” she said. “There are so many issues now. Teachers need an extra person (in the classroom).”
The Associated Press reports that it’s the third year in a row that Senate and House leaders can’t agree on how to fund teacher aides. In the last seven years, lawmakers have reduced funding for state-funded TAs by 32 percent.
Brady Johnson, the Iredell-Statesville Schools superintendent, said he doesn’t understand why what he called “draconian cuts” must continue given there was a $400 million budget surplus last year. Johnson said his district doesn’t have additional funds like larger systems to preserve his system’s 195 assistants should the Senate’s proposal prevail.
“Who’s going to monitor the children on the playground? Who’s going to walk them to the cafeteria?” said Johnson, the North Carolina Association of School Superintendents president.
Lawmakers return to Raleigh today to continue working on budget negotiations after a week long vacation.