Ellis: Cuts in teaching staff, assistants loom

Jun. 05, 2014 @ 04:10 PM

Superintendent Mary Ellis and other superintendents around the state are concerned about the Senate budget that passed last week. 

Ellis said in her superintendent's report Tuesday that they have frozen teacher and teaching assistant hiring where the funding comes from state and local money as a precautionary measure.

She said if the budget does not change, they could lose about 90 teacher assistants, about 83 teachers, about $700,000 in transportation spending and about $55,000 from the central office. 

"If this budget passes and I am not knee-jerking because the House is working on a far different budget...but if the Senate's budget comes to pass, we will have to lay off 90 teaching assistants and we only have 264 and a half, I think 265.  So you can see the decimation," Ellis said Tuesday night. 

Ellis and three other superintendents held a press conference Wednesday and released a statement about the Senate's budget. They were representing the North Carolina Large District Superintendent Consortium, a group made up of the superintendents from the state's 10 largest districts. 

The 10 largest school districts account for about 44 percent of students in North Carolina. 

“The state’s 10 largest districts represent nearly half of the students in our state,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath E. Morrison said at the conference. “Just in these districts alone, the Senate’s proposed budget would cut nearly $130 million in funding. Cuts would include: $94 million in teacher assistant funding (nearly 3,200 positions), more than $21 million in funding for classroom teachers (425 teachers), $1.4 million in central office funding and more than $13 million for student transportation.”

All of the superintendents supported the teacher pay raises written into the budget, but were concerned about the cuts elsewhere in education in order to fund the $469 million measure.

"Teachers who give up tenure and longevity can have an 11 percent pay increase. I support a pay increase for teachers, I honest to goodness do, I'm just not sure that supporting it on the backs of teacher assistants and teaching positions is the way to go," Ellis said Tuesday night. "We will have to expand class size in grades 4-12, no way around it. I'm announcing it to the world, if the Senate budget goes through, because we must have a balanced budget, there is no option there."

Gov. Pat McCrory also spoke in opposition to the budget Monday morning at Sun Valley Elementary School. He said he supported pay raises, but wanted a sustainable, long-term plan. He also said he opposed cutting funding for teacher assistants and wanted to keep textbooks in the classrooms. 

The superintendent consortium intends to advocate for their districts in the coming weeks.

Ellis said at the school board meeting that she is worried about the impacts of the cuts on the Read to Achieve law.

"My concern is that in a time, that the General Assembly has said we will not promote kids to Grade 4 unless they can read, and I'm not against that, but it takes people to work with children in small groups, so what are we doing, we're cutting the people who work with them in the small groups," she said. 

Board Chairman Richard Yercheck encouraged parents Tuesday night to reach out to state senators and representatives about the budget. 

"All politics is local, it's going to hit us hard," he said. "There's nothing we will be able to do about it, there's nothing the county commissioners are going to be able to do about it. There's not going to be another surprise bucket of money..."

He encouraged people to get active and to get their friends active to avoid cuts to the classrooms.