Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools

trackingCuts-web-600Members of the Scotland County Schools Board of Education voted on Monday to cut teacher assistants’ hours to 88 percent for the upcoming school year as a way to save jobs while coping with state budget reductions.

To keep teacher assistants working 100 percent of the time, the county would have to deplete a large chunk of its fund balance. Cutting hours allows TAs to keep their jobs while enabling the county to avoid gutting its savings.

State lawmakers enacted a budget this summer that cuts teacher assistant funding by 22 percent, according to N.C. Department of Instruction CFO Philip Price.

That cut comes on top of years of funding cuts to TAs. In Scotland County last year, the district had to eliminate 44 teacher assistant positions, which included 25 layoffs.

Earlier this summer, Gov. Pat McCrory pushed back hard on Senate lawmakers’ wish to gut funding for teacher assistants, insisting he wouldn’t sign a budget that slashes TA jobs.

In the end, McCrory signed the budget last week and said he was happy to do it because it preserves all TA positions — yet many local districts are already reporting that they must cut teacher assistant jobs thanks to the budget he signed.

But just days after the budget was signed into law, I reported that McCrory is working with the school superintendents’ association to come up with a budget fix that would allow school districts to hold onto their TAs (see my story here).

Scotland County is coping with other education cuts handed down to them by the state lawmakers, which include:

  • $40,000 cut in state funding for at-risk students;
  • $38,000 cut in state funding for digital learning; and
  • $117,000 cut in state funding for driver’s education
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Gov. Pat McCrory’s office is working with local school superintendents to come up with a fix for two hotly contested budget provisions lawmakers just enacted that would stop funding public schools on the basis of enrollment growth and cut funds to teacher assistants, according to a Lee County Schools superintendent and a lobbyist for the N.C. Association of School Administrators (NCASA).

“We have verbal confirmation from the Governor’s staff that they are concerned with the issue of no longer funding local school districts on the basis of enrollment growth as well as problems with trading teacher positions to fund TAs, and they are asking for budget technical corrections to present to the General Assembly that would fix these issues,” said Katherine Joyce, a lobbyist for NCASA.

Gov. McCrory signed a 260-page budget bill last week that contains a provision that would stop automatically paying for enrollment growth at public schools. The budget also spends $105 million less than what was previously budgeted for teacher assistants, even though McCrory has repeatedly said he was proud to sign a budget that preserves all TA positions.

The two budget provisions force local school districts to plan their budgets in the spring without knowing whether or not the state will pay for increased numbers of students in their schools, making it difficult for principals and superintendents to figure out if they will have the means necessary to hire the teachers and other school personnel they actually need. In addition, the budget cuts teacher assistant funds for local school districts by 22 percent.

Joyce explained to N.C. Policy Watch that NCASA, along with their local superintendents, are engaged in conversations with the Governor’s office to come up with language for a budget technical corrections bill they hope to see taken up by the General Assembly in August that would ensure schools go back to the old system of receiving their budget allotments from the state on the basis of student enrollment growth.

The bill would also allow local districts to use average teacher salaries, instead of beginning teacher salaries, to fund teacher assistant positions—freeing up more funds to save TAs. That fix, said Joyce, would effectively hold districts harmless when it comes to losing TAs and bridge the $105 million funding gap.

“Now we just need the General Assembly to actually come back into a real session and take up a budget technical corrections bill that will make these changes happen,” said Joyce.

Lee County Schools Superintendent Dr. Andy Bryan told the Sanford Herald this weekend that he learned Gov. McCrory plans to ask the legislature to implement corrections to the education budget on August 14.

“The Governor is recommending a technical correction that would allow school districts to receive planning allotments based on growth. As noted earlier, that is a really big issue for school districts and planning,” Dr. Bryan told the Sanford Herald.

In signing the $21.1 billion budget, Gov. McCrory said, “this budget reflects a pragmatic approach to managing taxpayer dollars.” He also said previously that critics of the budget should come up with their own spending plan instead of complaining about it.

This budget reflects a pragmatic and thoughtful approach to managing taxpayer dollars,” – See more at: http://governor.nc.gov/newsroom/press-releases/20140807/governor-signs-211-billion-budget-law#sthash.HXefpdLN.dpuf
This budget reflects a pragmatic and thoughtful approach to managing taxpayer dollars,” – See more at: http://governor.nc.gov/newsroom/press-releases/20140807/governor-signs-211-billion-budget-law#sthash.HXefpdLN.dpuf

Calls to the Governor’s office and his education advisor seeking comment on the possible budget fixes were not returned.

 

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The Rowan-Salisbury School System is trying to figure out how to handle a 22 percent cut to their teacher assistant funding stream.trackingCuts-web-600

The budget cut to TAs slices more than one way — in Rowan-Salisbury schools, many elementary school TAs double as school bus drivers (see my recent story about how TAs across the state also serve as bus drivers). 

Meetings will take place this week to determine how to handle the reduction in funds, and the school board will meet next Monday to make a final decision.

While the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Philip Price told N.C. Policy Watch that state lawmakers enacted a 2014 budget that spends $105 million less than what was previously budgeted for this year, Gov. Pat McCrory and his former budget director, Art Pope, have been working hard to tell a different story.

Charlotte Observer education reporter Andrew Dunn reports that Pope called him after he wrote a story about how Charlotte-Mecklenberg Schools will lose 90 TAs to explain how that simply should not be the case.

After my story ran, state budget director Art Pope called to walk through the numbers at a state level and say that because CMS was already using some teacher assistant money to hire teachers, they shouldn’t have lose anything.

“I can’t say why they’re coming up with any losses,” he said.

Then later, my colleague Ely Portillo spoke with McCrory, who offered up this:

“We are not reducing the number of teacher’s assistants,” he said. “Any teacher assistant who was working in a classroom last year will be working again this year if the local superintendents and principals set it up that way based on money that we gave them.”

I previously reported that lawmakers offered “flexibility” to school districts to handle their move to underfund TAs, which means they can move money out of classroom teacher positions that were intended to reduce class size in order to pay for the TAs they actually need.

But as one superintendent put it — that’s a false choice. You either save TA jobs and make classes larger, or the reverse — neither of which is great for kids or educators.

“If it’s going to cost people their jobs, I don’t see how we can use it (for class size),” Winston-Salem/Forsyth Superintendent Beverly Emory told the Winston-Salem Journal, explaining that she felt more pressure to save jobs than use that money to make classes smaller.

Know of more cuts to the classroom at the local level? Send me an email at lindsay@ncpolicywatch.com

 

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Now that Gov. McCrory has signed the 2014 state budget into law, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction published the 2014 Public Schools Salary Schedule this evening, which includes teachers’ salaries as well as salaries for instructional support staff, principals, and other administrators and other public school personnel.

Click here to see the salary schedule –> Fiscal Year 2014-2015 N.C. Public School Salary Schedules

There’s been a lot of confusion surrounding how much teachers and other educators should expect to earn next year, and whether or not longevity pay is something that everyone will continue to see in their paychecks –just lumped together with their regular salary — as lawmakers promised.

In 2014, teachers should see their first substantial pay raises in six years — an average 7 percent raise, according to GOP lawmakers who crafted the budget deal approved last week.

But it’s not a 7 percent pay raise across the board — early career teachers, those in their first ten years on the job, will see the largest pay raises, ranging from 7 percent to as high as 19 percent.

Veteran teachers should expect to see much smaller pay raises, with those in their 30th year of teaching seeing the smallest– 0.3 percent.

Still lingering is the question of whether or not veteran National Board certified teachers who also have advanced degrees will actually see a pay decrease thanks to the math on all of this — some say by their calculations, they won’t get a longevity pay bump next year, so their expected wages will actually go down in 2014.

But there’s a hold harmless clause in the state budget that prevents any teacher from seeing a decrease in pay. Whether or not that’s properly reflected in the published salary schedule remains unclear, and officials at the Department of Public Instruction could not be reached for comment.

Are you a teacher? Does the math in the published teacher salary schedule add up to what lawmakers promised here? Let me know at lindsay@ncpolicywatch.com

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Governor Pat McCrory has said repeatedly he plans to sign the 2014 budget passed last week–and with pride, thanks in part to the fact that it preserves teacher assistant positions, which are particularly important to him.trackingCuts-web-600

But on the ground, we’re already seeing local school districts cutting teacher assistants positions as they are faced with sizable shortfalls in their budgets that were handed down from the General Assembly.

The Chief Financial Officer for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, Philip Price, explained to N.C. Policy Watch last week that this year’s budget actually spends $105 million less on teacher assistants than was originally budgeted for 2014 last summer– and this move comes on top of years of huge cuts to TAs.

Here’s what we know so far:

Got more cuts to the classroom to report? Email me at lindsay@ncpolicywatch.com or give me an old-fashioned phone call at 919-861-1460. I’ll be Tracking the Cuts once again this year.