Parents' plea: Help Union County schools

Parents' plea: Help Union County schools

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by ADAM BELL / Charlotte Observer

WCNC.com

Posted on April 16, 2012 at 11:56 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 17 at 7:21 AM

MONROE, N.C. -- More than 100 parents, educators and students packed the Union County commissioners meeting Monday night with one message: Give the school board enough money to plug its deficit and avoid eliminating more than 400 classroom jobs.

They left empty-handed.

Most in the group wore green to drive home the point that they were seeking money for the schools, parent Beth Green said. But because the commissioners were not dealing with the county budget Monday, there was nothing for them to vote on for funding.

The school district is looking to eliminate 53 teaching positions and all 350 teacher assistants to deal with a $9.6 million deficit.

“This will only get worse,” parent Megan Huffman told commissioners. “We are failing our children and our classroom with these cuts.”

Her comments met with loud applause from the standing-room only crowd, as did the statements from 13 other speakers.

District leaders have defended the cuts as unavoidable. They said they made the best of a bad situation and avoided raising class sizes to deal with the deficit in the $350 million budget.

One teaching job in each of the district’s 53 schools would be eliminated under the district’s plan; all 350 teacher assistants work in elementary schools.

Several speakers asked the commissioners to use money from the sale of the county-owned hospital to provide a “Band-Aid solution” and let residents lobby Raleigh for more money.

“How low does the graduation rate have to fall (before a decision is made) that we need a Band-Aid?” Green asked.

Commissioners are still working out their own budget, and Commissioners Chair Jerry Simpson has said it is unlikely that the county would be able to help the district make up the difference in its deficit.

School district leaders said the budget shortfall was due in part to federal stimulus-related money ending this year. They used that money last year as a stop-gap to help plug a hole created by the level of state funding they had received. And they said the state should be providing more money for schools.

Instead of deciding which teacher assistants to let go, the board eliminated the entire program, making the budget cuts bigger than were needed to close the deficit. So elementary schools have about $4.5 million to divide up and decide whether to hire more teachers or bring back teacher assistants on a full- or part-time basis.

The cuts do not impact the 185 teacher assistants for exceptional students. Those jobs in kindergarten through 12th grade are federally funded and required by law, the district said.

Union County has the state’s sixth largest school system, with about 40,000 students and 4,350 employees in 53 schools.

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