Winston-Salem Journal, 8/4/14

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools will start the year with unfilled positions as officials work to understand the impact of amendments to the state budget passed last week by the General Assembly.

The local Board of Education held a special meeting Monday to talk about the budget, which Gov. Pat McCrory said he would sign into law.

Kerry Crutchfield, the district’s budget director, said the district is sorting through the 260-page budget to understand just what changes have been made and how those will affect local schools.

What is clear, he said, is that money for teacher assistants has been cut. More than $100 million was cut from teacher assistant funding, which will equate to just under $4 million locally. That’s about 125 teacher assistants, Crutchfield said. The General Assembly will allow districts to transfer some of the money appropriated for extra classroom teachers to reduce class size to teacher assistants, but it’s not enough to cover the full amount cut.

Superintendent Beverly Emory said the choice between reducing class size and keeping teacher assistants is “untenable.” The district needs both, she said, but will likely use money to preserve teacher assistants.

“If it’s going to cost people their jobs, I don’t see how we can use it (for class size),” she said.

The district put a freeze on filling vacant teacher assistant positions in the spring when it looked like the money would be cut. That freeze will continue until the school board has a chance to review budget details and decide how to handle the cuts, Emory said. That decision is tentatively scheduled to be made at the board’s Aug. 26 meeting – a day after the new school year starts.

Even if the district transfers all 55 new teacher positions – which have not been filled – to save existing teacher assistants, there will be a gap of $1.2 million. Emory said they’re hopeful the vacancies created by the hiring freeze will take care of most of the gap.

Crutchfield said it’s unlikely the district will cut any positions that are currently filled. That decision will ultimately be up to the school board, though.

Changes to the state budget have also dramatically overhauled teacher pay. Teachers in their first 30 years will now be paid on a six-step schedule that now includes longevity pay – a graduated percentage paid on top of salary to reward years of service for state employees of 10 years or more. Those were previously paid in a lump sum in the employee’s anniversary month, but will now be rolled into the regular pay cycle. About 75 percent of the district’s teachers who are eligible for longevity pay were set to receive in next week, Crutchfield said. They won’t, instead receiving it throughout the school year.

The district also gives longevity pay on top of its local supplement – a small percent the district adds to teachers’ state salaries as a means to entice them to work in the system. Crutchfield said the district will continue to pay those in a lump sum in the anniversary month instead of changing to match the state’s new policy.

School officials said Monday there is a chance the board will call a special meeting before Aug. 26 to try and get budget decisions made before the start of the school year. That will depend on how quickly they can sort through the budget and receive official allotments from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.