NO CHOICE: Board cuts 16 teaching assistant positions amid funding mess

Published 6:41 pm Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Beaufort County Board of Education cut 16 locally funded teaching assistant positions at a meeting on Monday night, following a years-long battle with decreased funding.

The decision was made with an 8-1 vote. Carolyn Walker was the only one to oppose, and Barbara Boyd-Williams was absent.

The 16 positions will be cut from the lower grades, with Eastern Elementary School taking the hardest hit with eight positions being eliminated. Chocowinity Primary School will lose three positions and Bath Elementary will lose one.

Schools with higher-grade levels, including P.S. Jones Middle, Beaufort County Ed Tech, Northside High and Southside High, will maintain the same number of positions.

All of the cuts will be temporary, year-to-year assistants who were already not guaranteed a job after this past school year. All of the county’s exceptional children’s assistants will be maintained.

In an attempt to retain as many positions as possible, some assistants may be relocated to other schools, and some positions will remain unfilled this year, said Lynn Harrold, finance officer for Beaufort County Schools. He said he estimates the cuts will leave about nine individuals out of work.

The county has allocated for 70.5 teaching assistant positions for the 2015-2016 school year, but any decisions made in the North Carolina General Assembly about funding could still alter the plan, Harrold said.

The state legislature is still trying to hash out an overdue budget, with the Senate version slashing funds for assistants in half and the House version maintaining the same amount of funds as last year.

The less state funding the county receives for the positions, the more local funding is used, but the local funding cannot compensate for the amount of state cuts, Superintendent Don Phipps said in an interview last week.

He said the county Board of Commissioners has agreed to discuss the situation with the school system.

“We want to be very transparent and honest,” Phipps said at the meeting on Monday.

Board chairman Terry Williams said the board does not support cutting these decisions, but the funding issues backed them into a corner.

“This is based on a best-case scenario,” he said, referring to the plan that assumes some state funding help. “We all feel this is terrible.”

With these cuts, Williams said the schools must keep one assistant for every kindergarten class and at least one assistant for every two first-grade classes.

“That is not a suggestion,” he said. “They need to follow this plan.”

Carolyn Walker said it was a shame that Eastern Elementary would be losing the most positions, as it is the school that needs them the most. She said the school has experienced behavioral issues, but now some of the assistants who helped in these situations will be gone.

“People at the state don’t get what teaching assistants do. … It’s that assistant that has been able to keep some kind of order,” Walker said. “I just can’t support it.”

Williams said he agrees the lower grades are taking the brunt of the funding problems.

“I’m not in favor of it, but we’ve been backed into a corner. … We don’t have anywhere else to get the money,” he said. “The county has worked with us very good.”

“I’m laying this at the feet of the state.”