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CMS teacher assistants face cuts in hours, pay

Hundreds of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teacher assistants will work shorter schedules and take pay cuts to avoid layoffs in the wake of state budget cuts, Superintendent Heath Morrison said Wednesday.

The budget approved Wednesday cuts $1.2 million for assistants who work with elementary students. That could eliminate more than 400 assistant jobs from CMS, Morrison said, adding that he’ll have specifics when he presents a final budget to the school board next month.

He said CMS started eliminating vacant assistant jobs in the spring, when budget proposals indicated cuts. The district also polled principals and assistants on the prospect of reducing the number of work days and/or cutting half an hour from the eight-hour day if it meant saving jobs.

That’s the strategy CMS will use, Morrison said at a Wednesday news conference. While assistants won’t be laid off, he said, many will be assigned to new locations.

He called the state decision “hugely troubling.”

“We’re taking some of the hardest-working individuals in our school system and we’re going to have fewer of them working fewer days and fewer hours,” he said.

The CMS payroll database the Observer got in April lists about 960 K-3 teacher assistants, along with about 125 prekindergarten assistants and 560 special education assistants. Most make less than $25,000 a year. It was not clear Wednesday how many jobs have already been eliminated.

In a scenario outlined for the school board in April, an assistant who earned $22,000 a year working 215 eight-hour days would drop to $19,185 working 200 7.5-hour days.

Morrison, who is known for maintaining a steady schedule of meetings with community groups and civic leaders, said he’s going to start rallying the public to ask lawmakers two questions: How are they going to find money to raise teacher salaries, and why are they shifting millions from public education to private-school vouchers?

Morrison said another year without a raise will likely leave North Carolina 47th or 48th in the nation for teacher pay. North Carolina is losing teachers to higher-paying jobs in South Carolina, he said. “That never used to happen,” he said.

The budget creates “opportunity scholarships” of up to $4,200 a year to help low- and moderate-income families send their children to private schools starting in 2014-15. The plan sets aside about $10 million for those scholarships the first year and $50 million in later years.

Morrison said that’s a questionable decision at a time when state officials are making cuts to public education and talking about living within the state’s means. And he noted that private schools that get tax money aren’t held accountable for student results, as public schools are.

“Where did we find the money for vouchers and how does that mean we are living within our means?” Morrison said. “I hope our community joins in asking these questions. I think they are important.”

Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter @anndosshelms
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