Teacher assistants fight for state funding for jobs

Posted May 4, 2011 11:43 a.m. EDT
Updated May 4, 2011 6:33 p.m. EDT

— Teacher assistants in North Carolina public schools are fighting to keep their jobs, which could be lost as the state government and local school districts cut their budgets.

"It's very frustrating because I think there is such a huge misnomer about what I do," said Debbie Kelly, a first-grade teacher's assistant.

A state budget proposal expected to be approved Wednesday by the House of Representatives would fund TAs for only kindergarten and first grade, leading to job cuts.

"If they cut what they are projecting to cut, we are going to have children fall through the cracks," Kelly said.

Kelly said that TAs provide crucial individualized instruction for students and free up teachers to focus on the whole class.

"Kids are at all different levels. While the teacher goes on with the class, we can go over and give that one-on-one instruction," she said.

Many local school systems are also looking at eliminating TA positions to absorb state budget cuts that could be double what they had anticipated.

Last week, the Johnston County school board voted to cut 74 TA positions.

"It's a very, very frustrating thing, but this is going to have a tremendous impact," Johnston County Schools Superintendent Ed Croom said.

The Wake County Public Schools System is also making similar contingency plans, depending on the final state budget. Last year, Wake County schools cut 25 percent of its TAs. 

Wake Superintendent Tony Tata urged lawmakers not to cut further.

"These are very significant cuts, and we cannot balance the budget on the backs of our children," Tata said.

Kelly and other TAs urged lawmakers to protect education jobs by keeping in place a temporary one-cent increase to the state sales tax rate passed in 2009 to balance the state budget. The increase will expire at the end of June unless lawmakers extend it.

"Everyone is obviously concerned about what is going to happen to their job, but at the end of the day, we're more concerned about what's going to happen to the kids," Kelly said.