Schools feeling the cuts

Published 1:03 am Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Beaufort County’s public schools have cut about 6 percent of its work force since the economic downturn began, about the same percentage of staff cuts in school systems statewide, according to the most recent data released by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

The county’s public schools have eliminated some 62 positions since the 2009-2010 school year, including 29 teaching positions and 23 teacher-assistant positions.

They are part of some 569 staff cuts in Beaufort County and six surrounding counties — Craven, Hyde, Martin, Pamlico, Pitt and Washington — since the economic downturn.

These cuts include 215.8 kindergarten through 12th-grade teaching positions, 229 teacher assistants and 124.4 other staff positions, including assistant principals, central office staff, instructional support and other positions in the seven-county area.

Unlike school systems in five of the surrounding counties, Beaufort County’s public schools have been able to avoid job losses — using attrition, retirements and usual staff turnover to meet reduction targets.

But the position losses are beginning to affect students and school personnel, according to Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Don Phipps.

“The cuts are real, as we have stated. These may not reflect actual people, but they do reflect positions that were not filled,” he said. “The results are larger class sizes, less classroom support and fewer course offerings.”

He said that the cuts come at a time when expectations and accountability for student performance on end-of-grade and end-of-course tests are increasing.

“Our faculty and staff members are meeting these challenges, but the stress created is real,” he said.

Phipps said he also is concerned about staff morale as employees are being required to do more as positions have been eliminated.

“Our employees feel the strain, but they have shown their professional commitment to our system and our students through the way they have helped carry the burden that we all must bear,” he said. “My hope is that we will not be forced to make deeper cuts in the year ahead.”

Statewide, public schools have lost 16,677.9 positions and laid off 6,096.7 people since the 2008-09 school year in response to state budget cuts, according to the DPI data. These figures include totals from all the state’s school systems, except those in Duplin and Guilford counties, which had not reported their cuts when the report was released.

Teacher positions made up 35 percent of the positions lost. Teacher assistants made up 33 percent of the overall positions lost since 2008. Local school districts also cut central-office staff, principals and assistant principals, instructional -support positions and other noncertified staff, according to the report.

The 2011-12 school year showed the largest number of positions eliminated — 6,307.5 — and the largest number of layoffs, 2,418.1, according to the report.

“When you look at these numbers, it is striking to think of the impact for students. There are fewer adults in schools, more students in each class in all grades and fewer staff to help students who may struggle or need help with learning,” said State Superintendent June Atkinson in a press release accompanying the report. “We are not keeping our state’s commitment to students when you look at staffing levels in North Carolina public schools.”

This is the first time since the Great Depression in the 1930s that North Carolina public schools have decreased the number of teacher positions during a time of student growth, she said.

Atkinson and other state education leaders said they expect additional layoffs and position losses of school personnel in the coming school year with the loss of $400 million in federal jobs funding.

More than 4,000 jobs are being covered by these funds in the 2011-12 school year, Atkinson said.