3 years later, schools hurting
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Sunday, Jul. 31, 2011

3 years later, schools hurting

Attrition already maxed; class sizes growing, getting harder to manage.

Leaders in school districts throughout the Lake Norman and Cabarrus County areas say the effects of three years of education-budget cuts will take a significant toll this year.

Many school systems have absorbed previous cuts by leaving positions unfilled as teachers retired or quit. They've combined jobs and moved budget items around to best use decreasing funds, even as they've added more students each year.

"We are in a very challenging environment, and I think we'll feel the cumulative weight (of the cuts) this year," said Superintendent Mark Edwards of the Mooresville Graded School District.

This year brought more budget reductions, although the state budget allocations were not cut as much as school leaders had feared. Still, schools are trimming everything, from teachers to supplies.

Some districts for the first time have handed out pink slips to teachers and teacher assistants. They're cutting more staff from their central offices and support positions such as maintenance workers and custodians.

"It's very difficult for me to feel good about a 5.5 percent (budget) reduction," said Cabarrus County Schools Superintendent Barry Shepherd. "Education has suffered as a result of the economy."

Iredell-Statesville Schools

This is the is the first year budget cuts have resulted in layoffs for the Iredell-Statesville school system, said Dawn Creason, public relations director for Iredell-Statesville Schools. For the past few years, the system has left positions unfilled when people have resigned or retired.

This year, the school system is losing an assistant principal, two central-office positions, 11 school counselors, two social workers and 37 teacher assistants. Four teachers of exceptional children and four EC teacher assistant positions are gone, but that is because of a decrease in enrollment in the EC program, Creason said.

The school system has lost about 300 positions in the past three years, Creason said, which is about 10 percent of the system's workforce.

Administrators hope classrooms won't feel a big impact from the cuts, especially from the loss of so many teacher assistants.

"It does make the classroom a bit harder to manage," Creason said.

Mooresville Graded School District

Parents attending open houses in the Mooresville Graded School District in August might immediately notice the effects of budget cuts. Class sizes have increased as much as 25 percent over the past three years, Edwards said.

"They are going to see classrooms filled to capacity," he said.

Classrooms that had 24 students a year ago may have 30 this fall. High school classes have gotten so large that the school system has talked about whether there is room for larger classes in its older building.

This year, the district cut one of its 11 central-office positions, 20 teacher positions and two teacher assistants. Those cuts come after three assistant principal positions were eliminated last year. Custodial jobs have been lost, and bus drivers are serving double duty as custodians.

"Everyone is having to pick up and do extra work," Edwards said.

Cabarrus County Schools

Shepherd said the district likely would not lose teaching positions this year, after the district conducted an exhaustive search of other places it could cut.

The district is hiring teachers now to replace those who have retired or quit, he said.

Instead of cutting teachers, the school board worked from a list of 51 other cuts it could make, Shepherd said.

Cuts were required through No. 37 on the list, which included a 15 percent reduction in central-office administration, four assistant principal jobs, a 10 percent reduction in teacher assistant positions and a cut in the hours of remaining teacher assistants from eight hours to six hours a day.

Shepherd doesn't expect class size to increase this year because of the budget.

Even though the district is in "pretty good shape" this year, he said, teachers have not received salary increases in four years and are working with fewer resources.

"I think it's beginning to take its toll," he said. "I do hope that the economy is rebounding enough so that we can begin to add back to education."

Kannapolis City Schools

Kannapolis City Schools has lost 27 teacher assistant positions and eight classroom teachers through retirements, resignations and layoffs, said Ellen Boyd, director of community relations.

"We've been cut year after year after year, but up until this year it hadn't affected personnel," Boyd said.

The system lost eight more positions in guidance, media, technology and art, three administrators and 10 custodial and office support jobs.

Middle school art classes are gone, because the middle school art teacher retired and will not be replaced.

Boyd said class sizes could increase across the board, but administrators are trying to keep K-4 class sizes about the same as last year.

Marty Minchin is a freelance writer. E-mail her at martyminchin@gmail.com.

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