OVERDUE: State funds teaching assistants and driver’s ed

Published 5:49 pm Friday, September 18, 2015

The North Carolina General Assembly has passed a $21.735 billion budget for this fiscal year, a budget that fully funds both teaching assistants and driver’s education.

The decision comes after months of waiting for a budget that was supposed to be approved by July 1.

According to Rep. Paul Tine, the new budget gives full funding for teaching assistants, but it does not allow the local districts an option to use the funding for any purpose besides assistants.

In the past, some school districts would use the money allotted for teaching assistants to instead hire more teachers or fund other education programs. The new budget does not allow this kind of discretion, Tine said.

“Unfortunately, we had to give up any flexibility on those funds,” he said. “I felt personally that it was better that we provide full funding for teaching assistants.”

The budget also raises beginning teacher salaries from $33,000 to $35,000 per year and gives teachers a $750 bonus.

“My goal for education is every educator’s goal — I want our students in North Carolina to have the best education possible. That’s why we are funding our top priorities like boosting starting teacher pay and increasing funding for classroom teacher positions so we can reduce class sizes,” Sen. Bill Cook said in a press release.

The approved budget ends a period of uncertainty for Beaufort County Schools, as the Board of Education was forced to cut 16 assistant positions due to the lack of state funding. The cuts would have led to nine individuals losing their jobs, as the board elected to transfer assistants to different schools and leave vacant positions unfilled.

However, the school district received support from the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners as they agreed to fund the nine individual jobs in the event that the state would decide against it.

Despite the funding of the nine assistants, Eastern Elementary School still has four less assistants now, said Jackie May, who is an assistant in kindergarten classes.

She said each kindergarten class has one assistant allotted to it, but every team of four first-grade classes must share only three assistants among them.

May said some of the kindergarten assistants have offered help to the first-grade classes during lunch breaks.

“It’ll pay for the people that are in place right now,” she said. “Hopefully, you know, we don’t get cut back again next year.”

According to Chocowinity Primary School Principal Alicia Vosburgh, the state funding will not change anything about the way assistants are allocated at her school at this point.

The budget also fully funds driver’s education classes, Tine said.

The state of Beaufort County’s driver’s education programs was another area of uncertainty, and the Board of Education voted to suspend new classes from starting until the state handed down a decision.

“We regret having to put a hold on this program,” Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Don Phipps said in a press release about the suspension. “Until we know what will and will not occur regarding the budget for this year, we have to proceed cautiously.”

Tine said drivers are required to pay fees for late registration, and the legislature used the money from these types of fines and forfeitures — which is already required by law to go toward education — to fund driver’s education.

The Board of Education will have to decide its next steps in the coming weeks now that the state has nailed down the budget. The board is scheduled to have its next meeting on Sept. 30.

“I thank everybody for their support,” May said. “We’re just excited that things have landed on a positive note.”