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Yes, you read that right — Wake County Public Schools would have to eliminate nearly 700 teacher assistants this fall if the Senate’s budget plan becomes law this summer.

The county would have to cut 693 TAs out of 1,250 positions allotted for the upcoming school year, according to WNCN. The Senate’s budget offers teachers who give up their tenure an average 11 percent pay hike beginning this fall. To pay for the plan, Senate leaders decided to gut the budget for teacher assistants — a line item that has already suffered deep cuts over the past several years.

“It is a great step in the right direction to address teacher salaries,” Wake County School Board Chair Christine Kushner said, “but we have teacher assistant positions that are being cut.”

The school system further said it would have to reduce bus services and the number of drivers used to transport students due to a proposed cut of $2.9 million in transportation funding.

There could also be a reduction in the number of drivers education classes offered for students, the school system said.

The raises built in to the Senate budget are for teachers paid with state money. Wake Schools said it would cost the school system $13 million to provide raises to any teachers paid with local funding.

Wake Schools cautioned that providing local raises could mean additional personnel cuts.

Cumberland County Schools has reported it would have to cut 220 out of its 330 teacher assistant positions — and that comes on top of cutting 100 positions they have already slashed for the upcoming year.

Some counties use TA funds to pay teachers’ salaries as well. In Stokes County, the Senate budget plan would mean cutting eight teaching positions in addition to 30 TAs.

Members of the House have reviewed the Senate and Governor’s budgets and plan to have their budget on the floor by the end of this week.

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Earlier this month, Sen. David Curtis (R-Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln) wrote what many regarded as a harsh email in response to a frustrated teacher’s letter to the General Assembly about teacher pay in North Carolina.

Senator David Curtis

Senator David Curtis

Curtis’ response to the teacher, who admonished the General Assembly for making false promises to raise teacher pay, included admonishing her for her bad attitude and pointed to what he believed to be were perks of the job that she was overlooking.

Those perks included eight weeks paid vacation (teachers are actually not paid for those eight weeks; they are 10-month employees) and a defined retirement contribution plan that guarantees her $35,000 for life (your retirement benefit is actually 1.82% of your average final compensation multiplied by how many years you have given to the state).

Curtis’ response sparked an Internet firestorm, and the Mooresville Tribune checked in with Curtis to get his reaction to the kerfuffle he caused.

Those comments and others in the email inflamed teachers around the state and prompted scores of critical emails and letters to Curtis. But the senator, a native of Mooresville, isn’t taking anything back.

In fact, he said many of his colleagues in Raleigh have told him they agreed with him.

“One positive is that this has increased my stature with the legislature,” Curtis told the Mooresville Tribune. “At least 40 legislators have told me ‘What you said was right on the money.’ ”

Read the full story over at the Mooresville Tribune here.

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In case you missed the news earlier this month, Salon highlighted a new report out by the Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education that examines 15 states representing large charter school markets — and found instances of fraud, waste and abuse at charters totaling $100 million in taxpayer funds.

From Salon:

Perhaps most disturbingly, under the first category, crooked charter school officials displayed a wide range of lavish, compulsive or tawdry tastes. Examples include:

• Joel Pourier, former CEO of Oh Day Aki Heart Charter School in Minnesota, who embezzled $1.38 million from 2003 to 2008. He used the money on houses, cars, and trips to strip clubs. Meanwhile, according to an article in the Star Tribune, the school “lacked funds for field trips, supplies, computers and textbooks.”

• Nicholas Trombetta, founder of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School is accused of diverting funds from it for his private purchases. He allegedly bought houses, a Florida Condominium and a $300,000 plane, hid income from the IRS, formed businesses that billed even though they had done no work, and took $550,000 in kickbacks for a laptop computer contract.

• A regular financial audit in 2009 of the Langston Hughes Academy in New Orleans uncovered theft of $660,000 by Kelly Thompson, the school’s business manager. Thompson admitted that from shortly after she assumed the position until she was fired 15 months later, she diverted funds to herself in order to support her gambling in local casinos.

Others spent their stolen money on everything from a pair of jet skis for $18,000 to combined receipts of $228 for cigarettes and beer, to over $30,000 on personal items from Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, Louis Vuitton, Coach and Tommy Hilfiger. But the real damage came from the theft of resources for children’s future.

The end goal of the report, say its authors, is to warn the public about the increasing risk that communities and taxpayers face by having an inadequately regulated charter industry.

Despite rapid growth in the charter school industry, no agency, federal or state, has been given the resources to properly oversee [charter schools]. Given this inadequate oversight,we worry that the fraud and mismanagement that has been uncovered thus far might be just the tip of the iceberg.
Read the full report here.
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Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education issued new guidelines that outline the legal responsibility of schools to enroll all students, regardless of a child’s or parent’s immigration status. It’s an important step in ensuring the right of every child to a public education, and fortunately is one that will be carried out here in North Carolina as well.

On May 12, State Superintendent June Atkinson sent a letter to all North Carolina school districts, reminding them of the policies that prohibit the schools from denying or delaying enrollment for students.

The letter reads:

School districts, whether through registration, student information verification, or other data collection, may not require Social Security numbers, may not ask questions regarding or evidence of immigration status, or for any other documentation that is not required in order to register or enroll in school.

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Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood ruled this morning that the state’s repeal of teacher tenure, also known as “career status,” and the 25 percent contract system that would award temporary employment contracts to those who relinquish their tenure, are both unconstitutional. Hobgood issued a permanent injunction.

“It’s a great day for teachers in North Carolina,” said Rodney Ellis, President of the North Carolina Association of Educators, following Hobgood’s ruling.chalk25

Last summer, lawmakers moved to phase teacher tenure out completely by 2018, on the basis that the law makes it too difficult to get rid of bad teachers. The legislature also mandated local school boards to offer temporary 4-year employment contracts beginning this fall worth $500 annually to the top performing 25 percent of teachers in the state. Teachers who accept the contracts would be required to relinquish their tenure early.

Tenure, or career status, offers a teacher due process rights in the event of a dismissal or demotion. Its repeal, said Hobgood, is an unconstitutional taking of teachers’ property rights.

Hobgood’s order also lets local school boards off the hook from being required to offer the 25 percent contracts to teachers. Hobgood characterized the 25 percent contract system as having no standards to guide school districts in how they would award them, further adding that temporary contracts for career status teachers are not reasonable or necessary for public purpose.

A significant percentage of the state’s 115 school districts have passed resolutions indicating their discontent with the contract system and asking the legislature to repeal the law. Guilford and Durham counties just won their own court ruling that granted them relief from having to award the contracts.

While the next step is to celebrate with teachers across the state, NCAE president Ellis added that he does anticipate an appeal to come from the state.