The Elkin City Schools Board of Education voted Monday night to hold off on filling two vacant teacher assistant positions until the N.C. Legislature and Gov. Pat McCrory agree on a final budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
The motion passed by a 4-0 vote as Vice Chairwoman Haley Sullivan was not at the meeting.
The N.C. House and Senate are widely divided on whether to fund teacher assistants in their proposed budgets. The House is proposing an $88.8 million increase in recurring funds for teacher assistants to replace non-recurring funds provided in 2014-15 through excess state lottery receipts, according to a 2015 Legislative Update & Budget Comparisons Power Point presentation prepared by Katherine W. Joyce, executive director of the N.C. Association of School Administrators.
Superintendent Dr. Randy Bledsoe and Finance Officer Jan Zachary reviewed the presentation with school board members during the meeting.
The proposed House increase would keep teacher assistant positions stable at $376.1 million for the 2015-16 school year.
The N.C. Senate, however, has proposed a $57.5 million reduction in recurring funds for teacher assistants; no replacement for $24.8 million in non-recurring funds from 2014-15; and elimination of $113.3 million in lottery receipts. The proposed $195.6 million total reduction for 2015-16 would result in an estimated loss of of 5,289 teacher assistant positions across the state.
The Senate, however, has proposed adding an additional 2,000 teacher positions in its proposed budget for the current year.
An additional $116.1 million cut proposed by the Senate for 2016-17 would result in an estimated loss of 8,592 teacher assistant positions during the following school year.
The House and Senate must agree on a budget to be presented to Gov. Pat McCrory for final approval.
Though Bledsoe described the role of teacher assistants as “essential to the success of our students as we look at our academic track record,” he said the word from Raleigh is that the Senate is likely going to win the battle over teacher assistants. “They want to eliminate them to the bare bones,” he said.
Bledsoe said the Senate has won out in budget disputes over the past few years.
Zachary said the school system has funding for 5.36 teacher assistant positions, two of which are vacant. The estimated funding cuts would eliminate two positions.
While the school system used to have teacher assistants in all classrooms in grades K-3, Bledsoe said the biggest concentration of teacher assistants are now in kindergarten and first grade, with very few in the second and third grades.
Bledsoe pointed out that the board has historically opted to keep people employed when state cuts occurred and paid for the difference out of the school system’s fund balance. “We are going to do everything we can to keep teacher assistants employed even if they cut 52 percent of the K-3 teacher assistant allotments,” he said.
Board member Frank Beals said, “I’d like to do our best to keep them employed.”
Board member James Freeman said board members had received an email from second-grade teachers at Elkin Elementary School in support of keeping teacher assistants.
School board members suggested the possibilities of hiring substitute or temporary staff to fill the two positions in question until a final budget is approved. Bledsoe said he and Zachary will have to look into the logistics of hiring a substitute to fill the two vacant positions until the budget is finalized.
“Of course, our hope is that we will receive the funding and that we can fill those teacher assistant vacancies,” he said.
After a lengthy discussion at its 2-1/2 hour meeting, the board decided to hold off on filling the two positions and bring the matter up again at its Aug. 24 meeting, which also will be the day classes resume in the Elkin City Schools.
Regardless of what happens this year, Bledsoe said funding for teacher assistants is likely to come up again in next year’s budget. “The Senate is going to continue that discussion,” he said.
The House has proposed the highest budget for public schools with an estimated $8.62 billion, followed by McCrory with an estimated $8.39 billion and the Senate with an estimated $8.28 billion.
Kathy Chaffin may be reached at 336-258-4058.