Union Co. commissioners reject plea for teacher assistant funds

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by ADAM BELL / The Charlotte Observer

WCNC.com

Posted on May 11, 2012 at 4:05 PM

MONROE, N.C. -- Union County commissioners will not support the school board’s request for an additional $6.7 million to help the school district avoid eliminating all 350 teacher assistant jobs, commissioners said at a budget work session Friday morning.

The move likely pushes the school board closer to seeking outside mediation to resolve the hot-button dispute. Superintendent Ed Davis was not immediately available for comment Friday.

Last week, in a unanimous decision met by a standing ovation, the school board voted to ask for the money to save the teacher assistant jobs. It was a precedent-setting move to seek county funds for classroom positions typically paid for by the state.

A majority of commissioners has been leary of any increased expenses while focusing on fiscal sustainability. And one, Commissioner Jonathan Thomas, had accused the school district of spending money “like a drunken sailor,” a characterization the district rejects.

But even if the county had come up with the additional funds to help cover a $9.6 million deficit in the school district’s $350 million budget, 53 teaching jobs would still be eliminated, mainly through attrition, resignations and retirements.

The school board wanted to take the additional money from the county and let the schools decide if they want to use it to rehire the teacher assistants full- or part-time, or bring in more teachers. All of the teacher assistants work in elementary schools.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” parent Erica Yount said after the commissioner’s meeting. “The fact that they are not funding the teacher assistant positions is just beyond upsetting.”

Thomas said that even if the county had provided the money, there was no guarantee that all of the teacher assistants would still have jobs.

County Manager Cindy Coto had recommended that the board not fund the $6.7 million.

The school board also sought an additional $2.2 million in operating funds, most of which would supplement teacher salaries by $500 net per teacher. Commissioners did support that move Friday, as well as a $4 million increase in capital expenses, which was less than the $7.5 million sought by the district.

Coto will deliver her recommended budget to the commissioners May 21.

At a meeting on Monday, commissioners approved Coto’s request to hire a consultant to help her review the school district’s budget and establish a process for school funding in the county budget for the upcoming and subsequent years. Over the past decade, school funding by the county has not followed any sort of systematic method, Coto said, calling it an approach “that was not necessarily strategic or logical.”

Depending on what the outside expert finds, Coto said there is a chance her recommendations on the school district’s budget request could change.
 

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