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School board makes cuts, spares TAs

EAST SPENCER — The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education tentatively agreed to a budget Monday that cuts more than 80 positions but spares most teacher assistants.
That’s in spite of the fact that the N.C. General Assembly cut 21 percent of its funding for teacher assistants, meaning $1.5 million less for the Rowan-Salisbury School System.
“There will be TAs thanking you that they won’t lose their jobs in two weeks,” said Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom to the board at Tuesday’s meeting.
The few who are losing their jobs knew about it months ago.
Chief Financial Officer Tara Trexler said that last year, the school system added one teacher assistant to each of its elementary schools, in addition to a formula based on enrollment.
Some of those schools had increases in enrollment and were able to keep those TAs, but 17 of the positions were removed at the end of the last school year.
Chairman Richard Miller said the school system will have to revisit its decision next year, but “at least we’ve got a year to plan for it.”
The school board also kept funding for seven behavioral intervention specialists and added money that could be used to match a state grant for school resource officers.
Trexler said the state budget no longer includes a $5 million “discretionary reduction,” which in the past left local school systems to decide where to make cuts. Instead, it specifies cuts of its own, including $1 million for textbooks, an increase in class sizes (equaling 68.5 teacher positions in Rowan-Salisbury) and a decrease in instructional support (or four positions).
Trexler said that after adding up state reductions and expired federal funding, the school system faces a total deficit of $5.015 million.
She said staff has already made some cuts, including:
• Reclassification of human resources assistant superintendent position to executive director of human resources, saving $40,000.
• Restructuring of human resources department and cutting one HR specialist position, saving $40,000.
• Reduction of teaching positions, including non-renewal of teachers approved by the school board in May, saving $3.3 million.
• Restructuring of the AIG program, cutting four positions without impacting services, saving $200,000.
• Cutting instructional supplies by 2/3 of the state’s $600,000 cut, saving $400,000. The other $200,000 will be paid with local funds, which in the past have covered all state cuts to supplies.
“We have cut over 200 positions over the past four years, and this would be an additional 88 positions that we have already implemented,” Trexler said.
She said most of those laid off in the spring have been re-employed, whether at Rowan-Salisbury or another school system. Many filled vacancies created by attrition, Trexler said.
After those identified cuts, the school board still had to deal with a remaining deficit of $525,000.
The board could choose not to use its fund balance to cover that, Trexler said, but it would have to lay off teacher assistants just two weeks before they plan to come back to work.
As of June 30 of this year, the school board’s fund balance was estimated at $4.587 million.
Trexler said she would recommend taking some money from the fund balance this year — more than $525,000, but no more than $1.5 million. That would take the amount in savings down to a little over $3 million, which would equal the Local Government Commission’s recommendation of 8 percent of the current expense budget.
Trexler suggested a list of additional items totaling $1.4 million:
• Five teachers to help eliminate combination classes, costing $225,000.
• Five behavioral intervention staff positions, costing $315,000.
• Funding for middle school resource officers, costing $276,000. This amount is a placeholder while the school system figures out whether it is eligible for a state grant. It could be used as a local grant match, or to help pay for officers if the grant is not approved.
• Additional front office clerical staff for three elementary schools, costing $93,000. This is a safety issue, officials said, to make sure someone is at the front desk at all times.
• Additional safety lighting, originally estimated at $20,000 but now costing $10,000.
An expiring federal LINKS grant funded 15 behavioral intervention specialists, who work to help at-risk students with behavior problems. Board member L. A. Overcash suggested adding seven intervention specialists instead of five, which would bring the fund balance appropriation to a little over $1.5 million.
“I could still sleep at night,” Trexler said. “My one caution would be that one you hire these interim positions, they are potentially recurring unless you make cuts next year.”
But school board members all agreed that these positions are crucial ones.
“If you have any sense of some of the children who are in our school system now… we need as many intervention specialists as we can possibly get,” said board member Kay Wright Norman.
The school board will vote on a final budget resolution on Aug. 26. By then, they are expected to have worked out a local funding dispute with the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.

Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
Twitter: twitter.com/posteducation
Facebook: facebook.com/Karissa.SalisburyPost

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