As many as 170 teachers could be let go because of cutbacks
by Josh Lanier
MONROE – Union County schools have avoided the massive layoffs many other districts have faced because of budget cutbacks. But facing a $10 million shortfall in fiscal 2012-2013 that will hit classrooms hard, teachers said this week the result could be disastrous for area students.
Union County teachers and parents piled into the Parkwood Middle School gym Wednesday, March 29, to plead with three state leaders to reinstate any potential cutbacks to the system’s budget.
State Reps. Craig Horn and Frank McGuirt and State Sen.Tommy Tucker asked for suggestions from the crowd and fielded questions from concerned parents and teachers.
As many of 170 teachers or teaching assistants could be let go as a result of the budget shortfall and parents fear any progress the system has made will follow the teachers out the door.
“These kids are our future leaders, our future medical professions and you’re failing them today (with these cutbacks),” said Megan Hoffman, Parent Teacher Organization president for Western Union Elementary School.
Hoffman’s comments underlined a theme for the night: cutting teachers, thereby making schools increase class sizes, hurts students later in life. A number of parents said after the meeting the potential cuts made them worry about their children’s chances at getting into a top college and getting a good job.
Union County schools have a number of staunch supporters. Several parents said they loved the system, or moved to the country specifically for the schools and teachers.
“Our teachers come in early and leave late,” said Parkwood High School Parent Teacher President Jennifer Stringfellow. “They work very hard for our kids.”
But Stringfellow said the teachers are being treated poorly by being asked to work an additional five days without pay next year, on top of the 180 school days. State leaders wanted to extend class time by five days for students, but have decided to cut that mandate for the 2012-13 school year. But teachers will need to attend additional staff development sessions, they said, without being paid for that extra week of work.
Union County teachers haven’t had a raise in four years, and it is pretty common for them to take a second job in order to make ends meet, a number of them said after the meeting.
“There are several of us who work as waiters and waitresses, some work at stores like Petco,” one teacher said, asking for anonymity because she fears losing her job if she speaks out. “… We work these extra jobs on top of the things we do for free like working with a dance team or the school paper.
“We do this job because we love our kids, and we care about them,” she said. “All we’re asking is for some respect and acknowledgement for what we’re already doing. What they’re wanting us to do now is just cruel.”
Since 2009, the school system has absorbed a total of $11.5 million in budget cuts imposed by the General Assembly, including $3.2 million in this budget cycle. While the teachers and teacher’s assistants have been fully funded, Union County did cut four assistant principals, reduced in hours the equivalent of 14 non-instructional support positions, reduced career and technical education support and technology by $800,000, reduced transportation and classroom materials and supplies by more than $1 million.
To protect teacher jobs, school leaders have made an 11 percent drop in central services staff, a 2 percent cut in maintenance, 6 percent drop in furniture and equipment and a 60 percent cut in funding for media assistants. All elementary schools lost their media assistants this school year, as well as the elementary level Spanish language program. The district also had to absorb a 17 percent drop in both master’s degree and national board supplements, reducing that from $1,800 per year to $1,500.
After all of those cutbacks, there isn’t much left that can be trimmed, officials said.
“They’ve already cut away all of the fat,” one teacher said after the meeting. “Now they’re just cutting bone.”
Some, however, saw promise from Wednesday’s meeting. It was the second time state leaders have met with parents to solicit advice and explain their decisions.
“I’m optimistic, as parents, we can encourage our representative to make changes in all of this,” Hoffman said. “We believe they want to invest in our future as much as we do.”
State representatives said they asked parents and teachers to call with ideas or potential areas to cut, but many of those decisions will happen at the school district level.
State representatives said they hoped parents and teachers would understand why they made their decisions.
“No one in the General Assembly doesn’t want to not give you more money,” Horn said, exasperated. “But we’re broke.”
“Make it happen,” a man in the crowd yelled back.
“Make it happen,” Horn called back. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Want to get involved?
State leaders ask parents and teachers to call with any suggestions they may have to defray a proposed $10 million shortfall.
Those representatives can be reached at:
• Rep. Craig Horn
• Rep. Frank McGuirt
• Sen. Tommy Tucker