Teaching assistants face cuts in hours again

Barbara Hootman

The 2015-16 school year is starting, and once again teaching assistants are losing hours and money because the state budget has not been passed

Buncombe County teaching assistants are losing an hour a day, or five hours a week, from their scheduled time.

In 2013 their hours were cut in 2013 as well.

“It’s sad that this is happening again,” said Deanna Buchanan, a teaching assistant for 11 years who now works at Black Mountain Primary School. “Everyone suffers, including the teachers and students, when the assistants are cut.”

The Buncombe County Board of Education cut teaching assistants’ hours because the continuing resolution the state is operating under doesn’t include some money that paid for assistants last year.

The assistants stand to lose some $2,600-$3,000 a year, though they would be able to keep their benefits.

Teaching assistants are victims of circumstances because the county has cut until it has nothing left to cut, said Chip Craig, Owen District Schools’ representative on the Buncombe County Board of Education, said.

“The (Buncombe County) Schools system is operating at a bare-bones level now,” he said last week. “At present, Buncombe County Schools are operating under the continuation budget (set to expire Aug. 14) even though our budget year began on July 1.

“Buncombe County Schools received $600,000 less for instructional assistants than allotted in the previous year’s budget. The reduction of instructional assistants’ hours in Buncombe County Schools is the direct result of less state funding. Depending on the final budget, the line item allotted for instructional assistants may be adjusted further.

“Eighty-eight percent of (Buncombe County Schools’) budget is personnel expenses, and 67 percent (of the system’s budget) is funded by the state. We have to take the assistant teachers’ pay from the 88 percent.”

Craig traces the teaching assistants’ dilemma back to 2009-10, when budget issues initiated cuts to statewide education funding.

“The state has continued to cut N.C. public school budgets annually,” he said. “The Buncombe County school board has tried very hard to maintain the number of teachers and instructional assistants in the classroom. Kindergarten through third grade are critical years for the intellectual development of children. Studies have shown that if a student is not reading at grade level by third grade, his/her chance of success and graduation from high school is low. Instructional assistants are critical to assure the success of all students during these early years.”

Malorie McGinnis, Black Mountain Primary School’s principal, said the loss of instructional assistants’ hours will definitely impact classroom teaching. The school has 11 assistants in its kindergartern and first-grade classrooms. “Their duties are ever-changing to meet the many needs of students,” McGinnis said. They help care for the students and instruct them in small groups or one-on-one. Our instructional assistants go above and beyond to meet the needs of our young students.”

The debate over funding teaching assistants’ positions is not new in the state House and Senate. The legislature has been divided for several years about the need for the assistants. In its budget proposal, the Senate suggests deep cuts so that more teachers can be hired and class sizes can be reduced. The House proposal keeps funding as it is.

The Asheville Citizen-Times has reported that Cynthia Lopez, personnel director for Buncombe County Schools, said if deeper cuts happen in teacher assistants funding, schools might reduce the ratio of assistants in kindergarten through third grade and reduce the number of days the assistants work.

The school system might cut hours even more. The last resort would be to lay off part-time assistants. Buchanan is already concerned. Her hours were reduced to four a day at W.D. Elementary School before she moved to Black Mountain Primary School.

“We are starting school worried if we will have a job left after the state budget is decided,” she said. “They could cut our hours more, take our benefits or do away with assistants. We don’t really know what is going to happen to us.”

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N.C. House Rep. John Ager,, (919) 733-5746

N.C. Sen. Terry Van Duyn,, (919) 715-3001