School board says no cuts to teacher assistant positions

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 27, 2016

By Rebecca Rider

SALISBURY — Rowan-Salisbury Schools will not see a decrease in teacher’s assistants this year, the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education voted Monday.

The vote to keep the budgeted allotment of assistants came after staff predicted at Monday’s business meeting that the state could pull district funding due to low enrollment numbers.

System 10-day attendance counts show that enrollment this year in Rowan-Salisbury Schools is down by about 390 students, bringing total enrollment across the district to an estimated 19,355 students, compared to 19,725 last year. Staff warned that if the deficit persists, the system will see a loss of funding from the state later in the school year.

Currently, the state funds the system $5,634 per pupil. A two-month count will be held in October. If the total number of students falls 100 below the projected number — 19,725 — the state will cut that funding. In a worst-case scenario, district Chief Finance Officer Robin Leslie said, that could equal a $2 million loss in funding.

“It is a problem across the state. But it is more dramatic for us,” Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody said.

The number of live births in Rowan County — the number of children born whose parents list their place of residence in Rowan — is also dropping, according to a study done earlier this year by the Operations Research and Education Laboratory.

Staff presented the numbers, along with the enrollment decline, to the board so that it could be proactive.

“We just wanted you to be aware of it,” Assistant Superintendent Anthony Vann said.

Leslie said that the system has already been freezing teacher assistant positions in preparation for the loss of revenue, and has been looking at shifting already filled positions to schools that have higher allotments. The goal, Moody said, was to handle the deficit through attrition without making cuts.

“We’re not looking at laying off anyone this year. We’re just looking to forewarn the board,” Moody said.

Staff estimate that the district budgeted for five positions that will not be funded if there are cuts from the state. Board Chairman Josh Wagner suggested funding those positions from the board’s fund balance.

“I think we need some of these folks, and I think we’re continuing to whittle down and take resources away from teachers and we don’t have to,” he said.

Board member Travis Allen agreed.

“If we’re not replacing them, we’re losing them,” he said.

If the number of teacher assistants needs to be reduced, he said, that should be a board decision at the end of the year — not a state mandated decision handed down in the middle of a budget year.

Moody, however, cautioned the board to be proactive — continued enrollment and birth rate decline, coupled with future policy moves from the state about classroom caps, don’t bode well for the system’s future.

“This problem is a snowball running downhill,” she said.

Board member Dean Hunter, however, called teacher assistants an “invaluable” resource, and made a motion to fill the positions from the board’s fund balance for the 2016-17 school year.

“If we have to lose TA’s next year, then so be it if we have to pay unemployment,” he said.

Board member Chuck Hughes seconded the motion.

Leslie said that positions could potentially be covered by moving positions that were currently being paid from the fund balance to be filled by state allotments. Board member Susan Cox questioned whether this could be done without jeopardizing teacher positions. Leslie said that she thought it could.

The motion passed unanimously.

After the meeting Wagner said that the board has just made cuts when state funding was removed before, and he didn’t want to do it again. If cuts have to be made, he said, he’d rather it be when the board has time to create a cohesive plan. This year, the board has the funding and the means to keep assistants — so it did.

“We need all the help we can get in the classrooms,” he said.

In other business the board:

  • Handed out prizes for winners of the Summer Reading Challenge. Earlier in the year the system collected donations to cover the prizes, which are valued at $150 each. Two winners were selected from each school.
  • Approved the hiring of Meredith Williams as the principal for North Rowan High School and Carl Snider as the principal for North Rowan Middle School. The former principal of North Rowan Middle, Alexis Cowan, will serve as a community principal overseeing both the middle and high school.
  • Voted to award merit-based bonuses to staff who are non-educators provided they complete at least three hours of professional development, meet a to-be-determined attendance requirement and receive a satisfactory evaluation. At its September work session the board will review last year’s policy for awarding bonuses to principals and assistant principals, and consider applying it in the 2016-17 school year.
  • Approved its budget resolution for the 2016-17 school year.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.