Raleigh, N.C. — The impact of state budget cuts on Wake County public schools dominated the school board agenda Tuesday. After a lengthy discussion in the afternoon work session, the board voted 7-1 in favor of cutting pay for teacher assistants. Board member Anne McLaurin was the lone "no" vote.
Chief Business Officer David Neter asked the board to reduce contract lengths for teacher assistants from 10 months to 9.25 to help make up the budget shortfall. They will keep their jobs and full benefits, but get a pay reduction.
Teacher assistants will only stay home on days when students are not in the classroom. Neter said it will save Wake County schools about $2.4 million.
“There is going to be some pain on the part of all teachers' assistants, but at least none of them are going to be eliminated," board Chairman Ron Margiotta said.
Before the vote, McLaurin said the board fell short by not asking the county for additional funding. Board member Debra Goldman also raised concerns about making cuts to such a valuable group of employees.
During the public comment portion, Raleigh resident Vickie Adamson asked, “If the Wake County Public School System is going to force the lowest paid group to take a pay cut, should upper management, the highest paid group, not take a cut as well?”
The board approved an amendment, proposed by board member Kevin Hill, saying the change will only be in effect until the next budget year.
Earlier in the day, Neter told the board they will have to cut another $5 million from the school budget. He proposed cutting custodial services, recommending eliminating 70 custodial positions and reducing outside custodial contracts by 35 percent. The actual number of people cut could be greater depending on how many part-time custodians are impacted. Classrooms would be cleaned less often, and teachers and principals will have to help pitch in with some of the duties.
McLaurin and Goldman both raised concerns about the possible health impact on students when classrooms are not as clean.
Neter also proposed requiring students to pay $45 to take drivers education. The state budget reduced drivers ed funding, but allows school systems to charge a fee to help make up the difference.
“If we don't accommodate that $45 expenditure, we will have to look for it somewhere else," Margiotta said.
The board will be asked to vote on the fee and custodial job cuts in August.
Wake County schools already cut 46 central service positions, one clerical position from each school and reduced assistant principals' pay to help make up the budget gap. Superintendent Tony Tata's budget planned for a 5 percent cut in state funding. The final cut is closer to 6 percent.
School discipline policies
Board attorney Ann Majestic began the full board meeting with an update on changing student discipline policies. The board has been discussing dropping the zero-tolerance policy for some offenses. The idea is to reduce the number of out-of-school suspensions to keep more students in the classroom when possible.
The board agreed suspensions should no longer be an option for students who skip school or have excessive tardiness.
They also plan to change long-term suspensions for level two offenses to be a maximum of five days instead of up to the 10 day maximum currently in effect.
The board is also changing the appeal process by creating a hearing panel to review each case and originally planned to have it consist of three retired educators.
Tata recommended creating a panel made up of one current central service employee, one current school administrator and one retired educator instead. Tata told the board it would be more cost effective to use current employees rather than contract more from the outside.
Board drops company that handles assessment software
The board was also asked to renew a contract with Blue Diamond Information Solutions, but instead voted 5-4 to drop the company.
The original contract began in 2008. The company provides software that helps teachers create and score student assessments and other reports.
Tedesco and others raised concerns about the cost involved and failure to look into other more affordable options. The new contract would have cost Wake schools $209,000. Margiotta said he thinks they will be able to find a much cheaper option closer to $20,000.