Sanford, N.C. — On the same day Republican lawmakers said they protected all public school teachers and teacher assistants in their proposed budget, Ashley Lancaster received a termination letter from Lee County Schools.
"Just to think I won't be here in the fall to see the children in my classroom as they're second-graders, it breaks my heart," Lancaster, a first-grade teacher assistant at Benjamin T. Bullock Elementary School in Sanford, said Wednesday. "I love my job. I love my children."
Her dismissal has nothing to do with her evaluations or performance, officials said, blaming it on state budget cuts.
Lee County Schools Superintendent Jeff Moss said dozens of teacher assistants and more than 50 teachers will lose their jobs in Lee County because of the $19.7 billion budget lawmakers have crafted. The Senate is expected to give final approval to the budget on Thursday and send it to the House.
"It's as though blinders have been placed on all members of the General Assembly," Moss said.
Republican legislative leaders said Tuesday that the spending plan creates 1,100 additional teaching positions statewide and retains all teaching assistants in kindergarten and grades 1-3.
Shaun Williams, chairman of the Lee County Board of Education, said the budget simply pushes millions of dollars in cuts down to local school districts.
"The only place we have left to go is the classroom," Williams said.
Lawmakers aren't being honest with people about their support for education, he said.
"You don't move the money from A to B, then smile at the camera and say, 'Your locals cut you. We've done our job. We funded teachers,'" he said.
House Speaker Thom Tillis said local districts the proper place to make cuts, saying lawmakers consulted with school boards and principals before revising the budget proposal and adjusting education spending at the state level.
Gov. Beverly Perdue has called the budget proposal "a charade," and her office issued a series of news releases Wednesday to outline the $429 million in local cuts that the budget would entail statewide.
"Apparently the Republican leaders in the General Assembly are not interested in doing what’s right for our people," Perdue spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson said. "If they choose to pass this budget, they choose to move North Carolina backward."