Raleigh News & Observer, 8/15/14

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools will make nearly $1 million in cuts to offset state budget reductions and raise local supplements to match higher-than-expected teacher raises.

The cuts approved Thursday night affect teacher assistants, part-time gifted specialists and part-time custodial staff.

They come only two weeks before the first day of school, after state budget talks stalled over disagreements among the House, Senate and governor.

School board members unanimously approved the district’s revised budget Thursday night, expressing their disappointment.

“This is the first time in 10 and a half years that I have been on the board that there was significant job loss,” Chairwoman Jamezetta Bedford said, getting choked up. “Some of our classes will not be taught.”

Board member Mike Kelley said the General Assembly is taking the state in the wrong direction.

“The shenanigans with the budget is just one more reflection of what is happening in terms of lack of strong support for what is really an essential characteristic of any democratic society, that is education,” Kelley said. “I hope that the people of North Carolina are able to change that direction in the near future.”

Board member Mia Burroughs agreed.

“It’s an outrage that this is completely self-inflicted,” Burroughs said. “The state government reduced their amount of money they had to spend with unnecessary tax reductions.”

The cuts

The county helped fully fund the school system’s budget request in June, but further cuts approved by state legislators left the district with a $911,130 shortfall. The state’s budget raised average teacher pay by 7 percent – the first significant raise in more than four years.

“While it’s true there are significant raises, there are other aspects in the budget that aren’t so rosy,” said Todd LoFrese, assistant superintendent for support services.

He said some teachers have received up to $6,000 in raises, while others have received $150. Longevity pay is now factored into the pay raises. Teachers with the most experience get lower raises.

School administrators say they will provide one-time bonuses to teachers and staff who did not get raises of at least 3 percent.

The 22 percent reduction in state funding for teacher assistants, roughly $800,000, led the district to cut 22 teacher assistant positions. There were vacant positions, so no employees will have to be let go.

There will now be one teacher assistant for every four classrooms in fourth and fifth-grade class rather than one teacher assistant for every two classrooms.

Custodians, specialists

The district will eliminate part-time positions in custodial service and consolidate full-time employees.

Three of the eight district-staffed schools will be changed to the outside service. The district will request that part-time employees be offered jobs with the contractor, which will mean a roughly $2 per hour pay cut. As full-time employees retire or resign, the district will transition the remaining schools to the custodial service over time.

The district will also cut part-time gifted specialists and keep one full-time gifted specialist at each school. Each elementary school previously had one full-time and a part-time gifted specialist.

Helen Motta, a gifted specialist teacher at Culbreth Middle School, said she was disappointed in the reductions by the state but appreciated the district’s effort to save as many jobs as it could.

“We’re very lucky we’re at Chapel Hill,” she said. “Because Chapel Hill does gives us a lot of support the best they can with the limitations of the state budget.”