Pay increase pushed for teacher assistants

First Posted: 1/15/2009

LUMBERTON - JoAnn Johnson struggled to make ends meet when she worked for seven years as a teacher assistant. So did Ruby B. Locklear, who was forced to get a second job.
&#8220But I loved my job,” Johnson said. &#8220I love getting up every morning and going to work.”
Both women's stories were shared with the Board of Education on Monday night as part of an effort to get higher salaries for the assistants. The board hired an outside consultant to do the study after years of complaints of unequal pay across the system.
Locklear, a former teacher assistant at Pembroke Middle School, said it's time the board stopped overlooking teacher assistant .
&#8220Those people are very capable, very dedicated and they have the knowledge,” Locklear said after the meeting.
Board member Millicent Nealy agreed, adding that she got a call from a teacher assistant before the meeting who expressed similar concerns.
&#8220They are very important resources,” Nealy said. &#8220It is a shame that a person can work 50 to 60 hours a week and still not be able to make a living on their salary. That hit home with me. Board members, we need to consider that.”
The board is scheduled to meet with Eddie West of the Masonboro Group, the private firm that is doing the study, at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
According to the current pay scale, assistants don’t see a pay increase until their fifth year, when their salary is bumped $67.46 per month. A teacher assistant with 25 years of experience earns about $20,300 in Robeson County. There are 676 teacher assistants in the system.
Board member Severeo Kerns, whose wife is a teacher assistant, joined Nealy in saying teacher assistants' salaries should be part of the study.
&#8220I can't see us leaving any of our employees out when it comes to our salary audit,” Kerns said.
County Commissioner Chairman Noah Woods, who spoke at the meeting as a &#8220concerned citizen,” also lobbied for assistants to be used to fill empty classrooms.
Woods, a former principal, said the board should try to find some money for assistants who have been required to go back to school. The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 requires teacher assistants to earn an associates degree and pass a test to keep their jobs.
Woods brought four former teacher assistants to the meeting, including Johnson and Locklear, who are now full-time teachers.
&#8220Some of these teachers had to take out student loans to send themselves through college,” Woods said. &#8220If you can, try to find these outstanding teacher assistants … recruit them, do whatever you can do to help these individuals become a classroom teacher. With this process we'll begin to close that gap that we've got.”
Also on Monday, the board learned that the school system won a $400,000 health and physical education grant. Athletic Director Ronnie Chavis said the money will be used to purchase StairMasters, treadmills and stationary bikes. A full-time health and P.E. coordinators also will be hired.
Chavis said he received a letter Monday morning from the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., so he didn't have all the details.
&#8220Obviously we can't do all the schools, but we are going to carry that money as far as we can,” Chavis said. &#8220We're really excited about this. I've already talked to a couple of physical education teachers and they are ready to get started.”
Chavis also handed out some hardware to students and coaches of the year. The last went to the girls softball team at Prospect School. The team, led by Coach Joseph Johnson, hasn't lost a game in four years, going 60-0 during that time while winning consecutive county championships.
&#8220These girls have done an outstanding job,” Chavis said. &#8220I look forward to them continuing their career at the high school level. Also, their grades reflect what a good job they are doing in the classroom. I just wanted to make the board aware that we do have a supernatural middle school softball team in Robeson County and we are real, real proud of them.”

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