A third year of budget reductions has forced Union County Public Schools to cut teachers, teacher assistants and assistant principals despite efforts to preserve classrooms as much as possible.
Students at seven Union County year-round schools headed back to school Monday. While many won't notice the obvious effects of budget cuts, many teachers, staff and administrators will be working harder with fewer resources.
UCPS had to cut almost $24 million from its budget this fiscal year, a combination of county and state shortfalls. More than $8 million was restored thanks to the federal EduJobs bill, an emergency measure passed this summer to prevent massive teacher layoffs.
Superintendent Ed Davis said he's thankful the N.C. General Assembly cuts weren't as deep as feared.
"We largely did not hit the classrooms hard this year," he said.
UCPS has been creative with its money and used feedback from teachers, students, parents and community members in decisions on how to allocate money. Feedback generally has been to preserve classroom size and keep teacher assistants if possible.
However, the school system still had to cut more than 50 teacher positions, although none were career status positions, Davis said.
Also eliminated were 47 teacher assistant positions; 30 of them are elementary school media assistants. Davis hopes that parents and volunteers will step in to help at school media centers to compensate for the losses of paid assistants.
UCPS also has lost three positions in its central office and six assistant principals. The equivalent of 14 non-instructional, clerical and maintenance positions have been lost, some through creative measures such as reducing employees' hours.
Davis expects the school system could grow by several hundred students this year, which will be offset by the loss of More at Four, a state-run pre-kindergarten program that now is administered by private agencies rather than the school system.
Some students may have a longer walk to the bus stop, as transportation officials are considering consolidating stops to save money.
Looming next year are another round of budget cuts that could be more severe, Davis said. The EduJobs money was a one-time allocation, and right now there is no guarantee that 2012 will bring extra financial help.
Without that extra help, teacher jobs will be cut, Davis said.
Classroom workers make up much of the school system's workforce.
"At some point, the bloodletting has got to stop," Davis said.
"School systems statewide are really going to be in a tough spot next year. We've cut and cut and cut and cut to save the classroom."
Despite the cuts, Davis has high expectations for the school year. The first days of year-round school already have gone smoothly.
"This year will be good because of the great students, parents and staff that we have at all levels," Davis said. "They will roll up their sleeves and make it happen. Those schools without the media assistants, they'll get parents and volunteers to come in. People will step up and help out.
"We'll still have a good school system and a good school year," he said. "Will it be harder? Yes."