LUMBERTON — Robeson County teacher assistants will go back to school on Tuesday, and have not lost their jobs because of the General Assembly’s inability to adopt a budget.
That impasse has led to uncertainty in school systems across the state.
“Some of the surrounding counties are telling their teacher assistants not to report to work because they don’t have a budget. I think that it’s just a shame. I think that the senators are not looking at what’s best for the children,” said Lacy Autry, legislative chairman of the North Carolina Association of Teacher Assistants.
Robeson County has 408 teacher assistants. Erica Setzer, finance officer for the school system, has said that Title I money, which is provided to poor school systems, could be used to pay them.
Autry said that he hopes that the local system’s new superintendent, Tommy Lowry, and Board of Education will support teacher assistants like Johnny Hunt did during his time as superintendent. He said that Hunt “felt very strongly about the employees in Robeson County.”
Lowry said that the county is awaiting the final budget before making any staffing decisions.
”This situation is not only sad for our teacher assistants, but it also puts the system at a disadvantage to have to wait to finalize plans for staff and students,” Lowry said.
The state usually has a new budget by July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year, but the Senate and House have been unable to agree on a spending plan, and this week extended a stop-gap measure to Aug. 31.
While legislators in the House want to keep the same amount of funding for the assistants as the state provided during the last fiscal year, the Senate wants to decrease funding by $300 million over two years — removing about 8,500 to 9,300 teacher assistants from classrooms. The Senate wants to use that money to hire 3,300 new teachers to shrink classroom sizes.
“We’re going back and we’re not going to have smaller classrooms because they haven’t done a budget. There’s teachers that are going into classrooms that will have 22 or 23 students with no extra pair of hands,” Autry said. “It’s time for this body of legislators to get together and make the best decision for North Carolina education.”
The base salary for a teacher in North Carolina is about $33,000 a year, but is expected to go to $35,000 with the new budget. Teacher assistants earn about $21,000 a year, according to Autry. The salaries for both teachers and a teacher assistants are tied to years of experience.
According to the Aim Higher Now N.C., an education advocacy group, Beaufort, Forsyth and Pitt counties have already laid off some of their assistants. Other districts have warned that the budget, when agreed upon, could result in dismissal.
“We are worried not only for ourselves and the income on which we depend, but for the teachers we work for and especially for the students we served,” said William Johnston, president of the North Carolina Association of Teacher Assistants. He works with the Bladen County schools.
Teacher assistants are normally placed in lower-grade classrooms to assist teachers with large classes. They help with reading lessons, other academics and controlling the classroom. Several teacher assistants in Robeson County also drive school buses.
Gabrielle can be reached at 910-816-1989 or on Twitter @news_gabbie.