Wake schools concerned about losing teacher assistants

khui@newsobserver.comApril 9, 2013 

  • Enrollment caps, name changes

    Also on Tuesday, the Wake County school board approved enrollment caps on 17 overcrowded schools for the 2013-14 school year, a move that means new families could be turned away from the schools this fall.

    The affected elementary schools are Brooks, Cedar Fork, Fuller, Holly Grove, Farmington Woods, Hunter, Joyner, Lacy, Mills Park, Underwood, Walnut Creek and Wiley. Caps would also affect the elementary school grades at Hilburn Drive Academy, and Apex, Garner, Heritage and Holly Springs high schools.

    The board voted to drop Rolesville from the names of Wake Forest-Rolesville High School and Wake Forest-Rolesville Middle School.

    The change is being made because Rolesville High School is opening in August, and Rolesville Middle School opened last year. Administrators estimate that the changes could ultimately cost $130,000 for actions ranging from replacing school signs to buying new athletic equipment.

— The Wake County school system could lose state funding for 400 teacher-assistant positions, a cut that local school leaders say will harm education for elementary school students.

The budget submitted by Gov. Pat McCrory would eliminate funding for teacher assistants in second and third grades across North Carolina, a cut of $117 million. Wake school administrators said Tuesday that the proposal would cost the county system about $12 million.

“This will be a landscape-changer, because this will be people coming into classrooms and not seeing TAs,” said interim Wake Superintendent Stephen Gainey, who added that losing the positions would be “very detrimental.”

Also on Tuesday, a majority of school board members voiced their opposition to a bill in the state Senate that would change how and when they’d be elected.

Teacher assistants perform a wide variety of duties in elementary schools, such as working with students in small groups and providing additional adult supervision.

School board members echoed Gainey’s concerns. They said the cuts contradict calls by state lawmakers to have children being able to read by third grade.

“If we cut this back to K-1, and we’re not doing anything 2-4, we’re taking major steps backward,” said school board member Tom Benton.

Gainey said this latest proposal is painful because Wake cut pay for teacher assistants two years ago to help deal with cuts in state funding.

Spreading the word

David Neter, the school district’s chief business officer, said he and Gainey will reach out to Wake’s representatives in the legislature to argue that the teacher assistants are needed.

Neter said Wake would recommend transferring funding from other parts of the budget, such as a projected $6 million increase in state funding for textbooks and instructional materials, to try to offset some of the funding cut for teacher assistants.

Last month, McCrory presented a budget that includes spending $52.4 million over the next two years to add 5,000 slots for at-risk children in the state’s pre-kindergarten program.

The governor also touted the budget’s addition of 1,800 full-time teachers. But his budget only funds teacher assistants in kindergarten and first grade. Elementary schools across the state have teacher assistants through third grade.

McCrory said when the budget was introduced that cutting the teacher assistants “is a very difficult choice” but stressed that having more certified teachers would improve education across the state.

Legislative leaders, who haven’t yet introduced their budget, have praised McCrory’s budget.

Election changes criticized

The Republican-backed state bill to change how and when Wake school board members would be elected would move elections from odd-numbered to even-numbered years. It would have the effect of shortening the terms of the Democratic-backed board members elected in 2011 and extending the terms of the Republican-backed board members elected in 2009.

The bill would also change the boundaries of the current board districts as part of an effort to turn two of the nine board seats into regional districts.

Board members complained that the new boundaries would no longer be compact and that the changes would disrupt the community.

“It’s just a bunch of changes that won’t accomplish anything good in the eyes of the community,” said board member Susan Evans, whose term would be shortened.

Board member John Tedesco, whose term would be extended, said there could be positives such as increased turnout from having the elections in even-numbered years. He also said it would allow all county voters to vote for two board members — one at large and one from the district where the voter lives. Currently, voters pick one representative apiece in the county’s nine geographical districts.

The board will vote April 23 on a resolution to support keeping the current election boundaries that were adopted in 2011.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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