Teacher assistants in Craven County must take nine unpaid days off this school year as the school system continues to deal with a $1.27 million reduction in state funding for TA positions.
By cutting paid work days, the school system will be able to keep 305 currently filled TA positions this academic year.
The plan, announced Thursday, comes a week after Craven school leaders laid off five teacher assistants and eliminated 36 TA positions because of the reduction in state funding.
Principals at all 25 county schools called in their teaching assistants Thursday for face-to-face meetings on the plan, which saves their jobs and benefits this year.
“They were appreciative of the fact they tried to do things to save their jobs,” said Thomasine Hassell, principal at Grover C. Fields Middle School in New Bern. “At the end of the meeting, we sat and talked about the children we had impacted last year. When we make an impact on a child’s life, it is a greater reward than money. It’s priceless.”
Funds for teacher assistants took a significant reduction in the recently completed state budget. In Craven County, teacher assistants work in all schools and grades, with more of them assigned to kindergarten through second-grade classrooms.
They often open and close schools and perform an assortment of duties in addition to hands-on teaching. Many of them also serve as bus drivers.
Typically, state budget cuts do not target specific line items, Craven Superintendent Lane Mills said. But this year, the 21 percent cut must be taken from the money designated for teaching assistants.
Salaries and benefits for teacher assistants average about $33,500 a year per position, said Denise Altman, school system finance officer.
Mills said system leaders recognize the unpaid days would create hardship for the affected employees, but the move will keep most TAs working.
“The decision to reduce work days for people who are working hard, while awful, does protect their jobs and avoided additional loss,” he said. “But these cuts represent real people with families and they are part of our schools family and we are very upset about this.
“We know how hard these people work in our school system and how damaging to our system and staff this will be. This is an awful statement about the support we are getting from the state for our school system.”
Assistant Superintendent Glenn Reaves said the teacher workday cuts were tagged as days off. School officials are not calling the unpaid time away “furloughs.”
“They will be there during instructional days,” Reaves said.
More cuts in teacher assistant positions appear likely next fiscal year.
Mills said the state’s biennial budget targets another 19 percent cut for 2014-15, so system officials are trying to take steps now to limit the effects of the cut.
“We have frozen all hiring and will use those reductions to absorb that, but it will still leave a shortfall for those positions next year,” he said. “Our plan does give our folks time to prepare for what is coming while keeping jobs and benefits for another year.”
He said the system has used planning to protect jobs for now but said that absorbing next year’s cuts, which total about 40 positions, was probably not possible.
Cuts totaling about $75,000 for textbooks and classroom materials also came with this year’s budget.
Craven County Board of Commissioners Chairman Scott Dacey met earlier this week with school system leaders, including Board of Education Chairman Carr Ipock, about what the county might be able to do to help.
System leaders say they are reluctant to use any one-time funds for ongoing expenses.
“Finding dollars to plug this hole would mean using dollars for what’s recurring,” Ipock said. “Everyone is scared to use a non-renewable source for ongoing costs.”