Wake County Schools

Tata: Good teachers priority even amid layoffs

Posted July 1, 2011 12:29 p.m. EDT
Updated July 5, 2011 5:15 p.m. EDT

— Layoffs are a reality in Wake County schools amid budget cuts, but the mission of educating children won't be impaired, and hiring high-quality, diverse teachers continues, Superintendent Tony Tata said during a weekly press conference Friday.

The Wake County school board will vote July 12 on proposals to lay off custodial staff and to reduce teacher's assistants' contracts from 10 months to 9.25 months, effectively cutting their pay by 7.5 percent, Tata said.

"It's been a tough budget. Real people with real jobs got laid off," Tata said.

Those cuts were planned in response to the $19.7 billion state budget that took effect Friday. School officials have said that Wake County schools received about $40 million less for 2011-12 than for the 2010-11 school year.

The school board also cut 165 clerical and 47 Central Office positions in the $1.25 billion budget it adopted in May.

Linda Dextre, who runs the media center at Wendell Middle School, said that her assistant was one of the clerical positions cut. Dextre said her assistant helped her teach new technology learn new technology and do research for papers and projects.

"Not as many students are going to be able to do meaningful, critical-thinking projects," she said.

Wendell Principal Mary Castleberry found a way to bring in part-time help for the media library.

Dextre said that's not enough. "I'm not sure that's what parents want for their children, to put them in an environment where you are doing the best with what you have, instead of providing the best services available," she said.

Despite the cuts, learning in Wake classrooms won't be affected much, Tata said.

"In a macro sense, we are able to continue to educate children in classrooms with minimal impact," he said. "At that the end of the day, that's my job: to make sure that principals and teachers have the resources that they need."

Hiring new teachers and renewing teachers' contracts has continued with an eye to "recruit the best talent possible for Wake County schools," Tata said.

By mid-June, Wake schools had hired 45 new teachers, including 13 men and 27 blacks and Latinos, he said. Contracts had been renewed for 729 teachers, including 582 whites, 120 blacks and 16 Latinos.

Tata said he's directed human resources staff and principals to reach out to recruitment sources that had gone untapped for years, including historically black universities and colleges.

"If the minority population has gone up and our hiring rates have remained relatively the same, we're either not geared to tap into the talent pool of those populations or we're consciously not doing that. Neither one is a good thing," he said.

Tata described minority recruitment efforts not as "some big social statement" but as widening the search for talent.

"We've been leaving talented, prospective teachers on the table by not aggressively seeking high-quality teachers in every possible venue, from every possible background," he said. "Anybody who thinks I will lower standards quite frankly doesn't know me well."

Tata also talked about the student assignment policy, which has been undergoing a controversial shift from assigning students, in part, to balance diversity across the district.

Staff members are still crunching numbers and analyzing data from a trial run of one proposed plan in which nearly 14,000 families participated.

Preliminary data from a survey connected to that trial run showed that parents' priorities include:

  • a choice of schools
  • keeping cohorts of classmates together through elementary, middle and high schools
  • a guaranteed K-12 feeder pattern
  • having schools close to home
  • express busing to schools
  • the option of high-achievement schools

Tata also said that he believes Wake schools are "in good shape" to meet the concerns of the AdvancED accreditation group, which looked into the district after a complaint filed by the NAACP about changing the student assignment policy.

The superintendent expected to make a report to AdvancED in the fall.