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Tracking the Cuts: The Dismantling of Our Public Schools

trackingCuts-web-600Members of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education approved a budget last week that eliminates 22 teacher assistant positions, thanks to a $911,000 budget shortfall handed down by state lawmakers.

According to chapelboro.com:

Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Todd LoFrese said that while the state budget would allow Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools to shift some money back into hiring TAs if so desired, the legislature slipped in some additional rules that would have resulted in eight more teacher losses than the school system could handle.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro also had to cut 4.5 gifted specialist positions and eliminate some custodial positions.

According to the Raleigh News & Observer, the city’s school system was able to move those TAs into other vacant positions, but classrooms in grades 4 and 5 will have to cope with less instructional support.

State budget cuts also forced Randolph County Schools to make reductions in force: that district cut 30 media assistant positions for the upcoming year.

RCS’ Public Information Officer Tim Moody said the district does have other vacancies available and it’s possible some of those media assistants were able to step into those jobs, but he wasn’t sure how many.

Each school in the district lost a media assistant position.

Gov. McCrory signed a 260-page budget bill earlier this month that spends $105 million less than what was previously budgeted for teacher assistants, even though he has repeatedly said he would only sign a budget that preserves all TA positions. 

School districts around the state are reporting that they have been forced to eliminate teacher assistants’ jobs and other positions thanks to budget shortfalls passed down to them by state lawmakers.

Do you know of budget cuts school districts are coping with as they begin the academic year? Send me an email at lindsay@ncpolicywatch.com 

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Following a presentation today to educators and advocates at an NC Chamber of Commerce event, Gov. Pat McCrory told reporters that if local school districts do not hire people to fill vacant teacher assistant positions, then that action can’t be characterized as a result of a budget cut to TAs handed down by state lawmakers.

“If at the end of this legislative session, if they [LEAs] had teacher assistants in place—in positions—they should all be rehired, based upon the budget,” said McCrory. “If they were vacant or they were using that money for other reasons, you cannot then call that a cut, because they weren’t using the money for teacher assistants.”

Prior to signing the appropriations bill last week, Gov. Pat McCrory said that the fact that this budget preserves all teacher assistants jobs contributed to his decision to sign off on it.  

But according to the CFO of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, Philip Price, the 2014 budget that the Governor signed actually spends $105 million less on TAs than what was planned for the upcoming year, which means local school districts will take a 22 percent hit to their teacher assistants – on top of huge cuts to TAs over the past several years. 

Lawmakers have said that this budget simply a reshuffles money that school districts were already spending on other things, like teachers, and that districts could choose to shuffle the money back to TAs if they want.

But years of under funding teacher assistants and public education as a whole has left school districts with little choice but to slash TA positions or leave them unfilled. Some districts have been forced to make the difficult decision of using teacher assistant money for badly needed teacher positions, thanks to state disinvestment. 

McCrory said folks should take a closer look at the language in the budget, which he says should allow local school districts to preserve teacher assistant jobs.

“If you were a teacher assistant last year, you should be rehired this year,” said McCrory.

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A couple of days ago, I reported that Gov. McCrory was reaching out to state school superintendents to figure out a couple of fixes to the education budget that he proudly signed last week. As it turns out, he’s casting a wider net — on Monday, his education staff also met with staff at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to brainstorm solutions, according to Dr. June Atkinson.

“I appreciate the Governor’s office reaching out to us…to find a solution,” Atkinson told N.C. Policy Watch yesterday afternoon.

If you’re not up to speed, here’s what’s at issue: educators and advocates around the state are up in arms over two provisions (among many) in the new state budget that they say hurt education: a) the move to stop funding local school districts on the basis of student enrollment growth, and b) a complicated allocation of money that puts funds that would normally go to teacher assistants in a pot for teachers — but school districts have the “flexibility” to move that money around (although some say that’s a false choice).

As a result, local school districts will have great difficulty budgeting and hiring necessary personnel to accommodate more students in their classrooms—and at the same time, they are faced with either instituting a 22 percent cut to their teacher assistants or saving those positions by taking money out of their funding streams designated for teacher positions.

Atkinson said no solution was ultimately crafted between DPI and the Governor’s office on Monday with regard to the enrollment funding issue.

“We are still thinking about how to get to a place where we can help schools do the planning they need to do, like hiring more teachers when enrollment goes up,” said Atkinson. “There’s no solution yet, short of the General Assembly reinstating annual student growth as a part of the base budget.”

McCrory agreed to sign the budget, in part, because it preserved teacher assistants. But local media reports already indicate TA jobs are disappearing as local districts prepare for the upcoming school year, thanks to state budget cuts.

And the provision in the budget that stops funding school districts based on enrollment growth received very little attention from lawmakers as they debated the budget — perhaps because they only had hours to digest it before voting.

Gov. McCrory’s office hasn’t returned inquiries seeking comment on this issue.

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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