State teacher assistant funding uncertain

By Kathy Chaffin -

Local school systems are postponing filling vacant teacher assistant positions until after the N.C. Legislature reconvenes and makes decisions on its fiscal year budget.

The N.C. Senate voted June 17 to cut funds eliminating 14,000 teacher assistant positions across the state. While the N.C. House budget did not cut teaching assistant funds, its proposed budget is $700 million higher than the Senate’s and the two branches will have to agree on a version to be presented to Gov. Pat McCrory for final approval.

Dr. Randy Bledsoe, superintendent of the Elkin City Schools, said the school board will discuss teacher assistants at a meeting on Monday at 6 p.m. “Historically, our board of education has always supported keeping personnel on board with the Elkin City Schools,” he said, “and here again, utilizing local funds to try to keep the employees as long as possible.”

Bledsoe said the N.C. Legislature has been cutting teacher assistant positions for the past seven years. During that time, he said the Elkin City Schools has been able to offset the cuts by not replacing teacher assistants who retired or moved away and using local funds to keep others in place.

“Our teacher assistants have played a vital role in supporting the instruction within the classroom,” he said. “So to me, their role and their responsibility has been a part of the academic successes that we have experienced in elementary school.

“Teacher assistants approach their jobs in a professional manner,” he said. “They assist with the tasks that the teacher has within the classroom setting, and of course, in helping to maintain the overall positive culture of the school. They’ve been a great part of the positive experience of an education in the Elkin City Schools.”

Dr. Todd Martin, superintendent of the Yadkin County Schools, said the drastic cut proposed by the N.C. Senate “would hurt us greatly.”

“We need teacher assistants in our classrooms,” he said. “They do so much with the children that are just beginning school. They assist them in so many ways such as learning how to read and do basic math skills.”

Martin said it’s very difficult for kindergarten and first-grade teachers in classrooms with 17 to 19 students to be able to provide one-on-one instruction time with them to teach those skills. “We need teacher assistants in those lower grades,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.

“Some people say they’re not needed. I disagree. We need them.”

At present, Martin said there are 50 state-funded teacher assistant positions in the Yadkin County Schools.

The Senate budget also calls for lowering class sizes and adding about 2,000 teachers across the state. “We are a small system,” Martin said, “so it’s not going to impact us greatly either way.”

Bledsoe said the school system would likely benefit more from the teacher assistants proposed to be cut than adding a teacher. While there are extra classrooms available at the high school and elementary school, he said, “there is not one at the middle school so that could be problematic.”

This might also be a problem for some of the larger school systems, Bledsoe said. “They may not have the facilities to house two or three more teachers if they were to receive them,” he said.

The N.C. Legislature was scheduled to resume budget discussions when it reconvened on Tuesday afternoon.

Kathy Chaffin may be reached at 336-258-4058.

By Kathy Chaffin

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