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Teacher assistants fear for their jobs, cuts impact students too

Kristi Cauble is supposed to report back to work at Hurley Elementary School in less than three weeks, but thanks to budget disagreements in the North Carolina General Assembly, she still doesn’t know whether or not she’ll have a job.

The situation is “a little bit sad,” the teacher assistant said. “I never know if I’m going to have a job.”

The mother of two spends her days as a teacher assistant and her evenings as a dance instructor, but even bringing in two incomes, finances are tight.

“At Christmas time, it’s really tight,” she added.

The Senate’s budget proposal includes cutting teacher assistants to reduce class sizes. If enacted, Rowan-Salisbury elementary schools would lose 79 teacher assistant positions.

“The house originally proposed funding them (teacher assistants) at the same level as last year,” said Rowan-Salisbury Chief Financial Officer Tara Trexler. “We hope the Senate’s proposal is worst-case scenario.”

Although Trexler believes it will be September before a final budget is passed, she hopes to have enough information to make staffing decisions by Aug. 14, when the continuing budget resolution that was passed ends. The district’s 10-month employees return to work three days after that.

The continuing budget resolution itself included a cut to teacher assistant positions. Thirteen positions were eliminated, but fortunately there were enough vacancies that no one had to be laid off.

“At that point we had 13 teacher assistant vacancies,” Trexler said.

Although the district didn’t have to lay anyone off, she said the “kids are affected whether or not there’s anyone in that position.”

Even if she’s able to keep her job, Cauble said she and her colleagues feel the impact of budget cuts as more teacher assistant positions are eliminated each year.

“We have to take on more roles,” she said. “We’re pulled left and right.”

Rather than spending an entire day in one classroom, teacher assistants migrate from one classroom to the next throughout the day. They also get pulled out of their normal classrooms to substitute frequently as well.

“We never know if we’re going to be an hour in this classroom, an hour in that classroom,” Cauble said.

At Hurley, teacher assistants are responsible for leading guided reading groups, which provide personalized reading instruction for young readers.

“I don’t feel like we get to fully implement the guided reading groups,” she said. “We’re not with them long enough.”

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