Teacher assistants on the chopping block

Teacher assistants on the chopping block
July 16
00:00 2015

In above photo: NCATA Communication Director Melinda Zarate speaks at a rally at Miller Park on Wednesday, July 8. (Submitted photo)

More than 8,000 teacher assistant jobs could be cut in the State’s budget

Under the current proposed state budget passed by the N.C. Senate, more than 8,000 teacher assistants may lose their jobs in the next two years.

Vastly different versions of the 2015-2017 budget passed both the state House and Senate earlier in the summer and is now being negotiated in committee.

Normally the deadline for a budget is July 1, when the state’s fiscal year begins, but a continuing resolution will keep the state funded through August 14.

Among the largest sticking points is cutting the funds for teacher assistants in half.

The Senate budget increases money for education overall, using its funds to raise the salaries for some teachers while hiring thousands of new teachers to decrease classroom size.

But it does this at by slashing money for teacher assistants.

There have been protests around the state in reaction to the cut, including one held at Miller Park on Wednesday, July 8, organized by advocacy group Aim Higher Now and the N.C. Association of Teacher Assistants.

In a phone interview with The Chronicle, NCATA Communication Director Melinda Zarate said its far from the first time teacher assistant jobs have been cut.

She said since 2008, 7,000 teacher assistant positions have been cut. She believes in the last few years that teacher assistant cuts have become a bargaining tool between legislators.

“Every year they put us on the chopping block,” she said. “We’ve become used as a tool, we’re a bargaining chip in negotiations between the senate and house.”

Zarate is a full-time teacher assistant at Friedburg Elementary School in Davidson County.

She’s been a teacher assistant for 20 years.

She assists two teachers in fourth and fifth grades.

She said there are currently a more than 15,000 state-funded teacher assistants in elementary schools, with most of them serving in kindergarten through third grade.

Typically it’s a full-time position with a wide variety of tasks, including leading small group activities, preparing classroom materials and working with students one-on-one.

Zarate said sometimes teacher assistants will be the ones who can spot a student in need of help that a teacher might be too busy to notice.

She said that extra attention is needed in the early formative grades.

“We’re another set of hands and another set of eyes,” she said.

She also questioned if a smaller class size really gives the students a better teacher-to-student ratio, when they only have one teacher instead of a teacher and teacher assistant.

Ronda Gordon, president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators, agrees that teacher assistants shouldn’t be cut.

“We need our teacher assistants,” she said. “They play a vital role in educating our children in public education. And without them, it’s going to make that job even more difficult.”

Gordon also questions the practicality of reducing class sizes because North Carolina is losing teachers and school systems are often having problems filling all their open teaching positions.

There’s also the question of where the new classrooms would be housed because many schools have maxed out their space.

In Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, there are about 500 teacher assistants, mostly in kindergarten and first grade.

Of those, 110 were being cut in anticipation of non-recurring funds before any version of the budget was passed.

Half those are cut through attrition, by not replacing teacher assistants who retire or quit.

The other half are through layoffs, which are decided based on seniority.

According to the school system, other positions have been found for all but one of those who’ve been laid off so far.

If the Senate cuts are approved, Forsyth will have to cut twice as many teacher assistants.

Since the budget deadline is now in August, those additional layoffs might happen after the school year begins if the Senate cuts go into effect.

This is the third year Forsyth County has had to reduce its teacher assistant positions.

N.C. Sen. Paul Lowe Jr., who represents the 32nd District, is among the Democrats opposed to the teacher assistant cuts.

He said he’s concerned with both the massive amount of jobs that will be lost and with the effect it will have on students in the classroom.

He said that lawmakers should find the money to keep the positions in the state’s budget, which is about $22 billion.

“We’ve got to invest in our children,” he said. “If North Carolina is going to be a first-rate state, we have to invest in our children.”


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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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