State cutbacks force 30 out of work

Published 10:37 am Wednesday, June 8, 2011

GATESVILLE – On one hand, North Carolina’s proposed new budget claims it will save thousands of teacher assistant jobs across the state.

The difference between a proposal and real life can be found in Gates County. Here, 19 teacher assistant jobs have been lost, as well as 11 other positions, according to Gates County Schools Superintendent Dr. Zenobia Smallwood.

“In actuality, instead of them (the state) making the cuts, they’ve put it on us here at the local level,” Dr. Smallwood said in a telephone interview late last week. “They’ve passed the buck to us. We have to return discretionary funds to the state, leaving us short of the money we need to fund positions.”

At the May 4 meeting of the Gates County Board of Commissioners, Dr. Smallwood told the board that she estimated Gates County Schools would have to return over $400,000 in discretionary funding to the state.

“When you add this on top of a ten percent reduction in the state budget, this will greatly impact our instructional programs and impact our instructional positions,” she said at that May meeting.

According to State Board of Education lobbyist Ann McColl, the proposed state budget requires an additional $124 million in cuts to education. That, she said, comes on top of more than $300 million already built into the budget that local districts will lose.

The initial round of cuts within Gates County Schools came last month after the state opted to move the More at Four (Pre-K) program out from under the control of the Department of Public Instruction, transferring it to the Department of Health and Human Services. That decision led to the loss of nine jobs in the county – three certified teachers and six teacher assistants.

Unfortunately, additional cuts were looming based on the discretionary funds Gates County had to return to the state. That led to the loss of four certified teachers, 13 teacher assistants, three Social Workers and one clerical position.

To date, 30 former employees of Gates County Schools are looking for work.

“It’s not a pleasant task to do,” Dr. Smallwood said, referencing laying off employees. “We wanted to protect these jobs in an effort to not negatively impact what we’re all here to do in the first place….to educate the children. But these discretionary funding cuts went deep.”

When asked if cuts to prep athletics was being considered as a cost-cutting measure, Dr. Smallwood said that option has not been put on the table for discussion.

“We’re being extremely conservative in how we operate our school system on a day to day basis,” she noted. “We’re looking at cost-cutting measures to save money, to save jobs.

“What really is disheartening is that all these cuts severely impact what we do as educators. We prepare children for whatever path they want to take and education provides that foundation. If we miss out on providing a solid foundation, it hurts us all down the line,” Dr. Smallwood concluded.

The proposed new state budget, as passed by the NC House and Senate last week (and now awaits the Governor’s signature), includes the following cuts to K-12 education:

$124.2 million in additional savings as determined by local school districts, spread out from among the 115 districts;

Eliminate funds for Dropout Prevention Grant program; Reduces funding for new textbooks;

Eliminate funds for student diagnostic pilot program; Reduces instructional supplies funding allotment to districts by 46 percent;

Reduces by 15 percent, or $59.5 million, state funding allotment to pay for school janitors, clerical staff and other personnel;

Reduces funding allotment for central staff in local school districts by 16 percent, or $17.2 million;

Reduce by $22.2 million, or 19 percent, funds to pay for assistant principals;

Reduce funds for instructional support for guidance counselors, social workers and media specialists by 5 percent, or $22.9 million;

Eliminates staff development funds for school districts; and

Eliminates state funding for the Teacher Academy and reduce state funding for the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching, both teacher professional development services.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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