Under the Dome

Teacher assistants fight for their jobs

Teacher assistants brought their "Pink Slip Truth" tour to the Legislative Building on Tuesday to fight for their jobs, saying state budgets set them up as constant targets.

"It feels like we are under attack," said Melinda Zarate, state secretary of the N.C. Association of Teacher Assistants. Zarate is a teacher assistant in Davidson County.

The Senate's proposed would cut teacher assistants and shift the money to pay for teaches to reduce class sizes in the lower grades. The Senate plan would cut the equivalent of 5,300 teacher assistant salaries this year and an additional 3,200 next year.

Senate Republicans have, over the years, pushed for reductions in teacher assistants and lower early-grade class sizes on the theory that their approach will improve student performance.

"It seems like every single year, we're here fighting for our jobs," said Michelle Bailey, a teacher assistant from Onslow County.

Zarate said teacher assistants are needed in their schools and classrooms. And the assistants also need their paychecks, she said, and not knowing whether they'll have jobs in a few months is unnerving.

The message politicians are sending is "we're going on vacation - maybe we'll fire you when we get back," Zarate said. Legislators plan to take next week off. A temporary budget passed Tuesday will give the House, Senate and Gov. Pat McCrory another six weeks to agree on state budget.

The new budget deadline could make it challenging for school districts to hire more teachers in time for the beginning of school.

Lisa Kaylie, a parent from Chapel HIll, said school districts may not have space to house new classrooms.

Sen, Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican, said the lead time to hire for the start of the school year depends on when legislators have a budget deal.

"It could be two months, it could be two weeks," he said.

More teachers and lower class sizes may require some "creative scheduling" by districts, or "creative use of space," he said. "Most of them can handle it."