Union County school officials defended on Wednesday their decision to cut 403 classroom jobs to help fill a $9.6 million budget deficit, saying the move was unavoidable.
Some parents and others, however, said the district should have done more to avoid eliminating 53 teaching positions and all 350 elementary school teacher assistant jobs; the school board unanimously approved the cuts Tuesday.
Union County Commissioner Kim Rogers, a former school board member, said she was appalled.
Its incomprehensible to me to be cutting teacher assistants, Rogers said. (The school board) shouldve worked harder to get more money for the budget from the state legislature.
School board Chair Dean Arp said that until the complex state funding formula changes, the amount of money the district gets from the state wont change.
Judi Dill, who has a daughter in kindergarten at Western Union Elementary, said she doesnt understand the school boards decision. This is going to affect my daughter for the next 12 years.
Arp and Superintendent Ed Davis said the district made the best of a tough situation, and wanted to avoid raising class sizes to combat the deficit in the $350 million budget. Still, Davis acknowledged, These are the cuts that hurt the worst.
Schools will get some teacher assistants back. Rather than pick which assistants to let go, the board eliminated the entire program, which made the budget cuts bigger than were needed to close the deficit.
That leaves elementary schools with about $4.5 million to divide up, Davis said, with each one deciding whether to hire more teachers or bring back teacher assistants on a full- or part-time basis.
Teacher assistants typically work at the kindergarten through third-grade level. Arp estimated that 35 to 40 percent of the assistants could be rehired.
Davis does not expect any layoffs for teaching positions; the jobs will be lost mainly through resignations, retirements or attrition, although there may be a few interim teaching jobs that will not be renewed. Those jobs are on a year-to-year basis.
Davis said the budget shortfall was due in part to federal stimulus-related funds ending this year. That money had helped plug a hole created by the level of state funding last year, he said, but the district knew the federal money was only a stop-gap.
Arp and Davis said there was nothing the district could have or should have done differently.
We would have had the same result. Its a matter of dealing with it a little at a time or (making cuts) all at once, Davis said. The state shouldve provided more money for schools .Wed hoped things would have improved with the state.
Per-student state funding has dropped steadily in North Carolina since 2008-09. At a meeting in Raleigh this week, superintendents told the State Board of Education that state budget cuts have hurt the quality of education.
Approaching the county
Members of several parent-teacher organizations recently formed a group, Protect Union County Public Schools, parent Beth Green said. They want to find ways to improve school funding, she said, and will attend an upcoming county commissioners meeting.
Commissioners Chair Jerry Simpson said it was highly unlikely that the county, which is dealing with its own budget constraints, would be able to help the district make up the difference in its deficit.
Union County has the states sixth largest school system, with about 40,000 students and 4,350 employees in 53 schools. The districts 89.1 percent graduation rate is fifth-highest in the state, and highest among the larger districts.
Green, who has children at Hemby Bridge Elementary, worries that morale will drop and teachers will miss opportunities to enrich students education because they will be dealing with so many other areas in the assistants absence. Im very troubled by this, she said.
The News and Observer contributed.