Wilkes County schools will likely lose 15 to 20 certified teaching positions under a proposed two-year budget approved by the legislature last week, but Wilkes School Superintendent Dr. Steve Laws said he’s optimistic about absorbing these through attrition.
Laws said that after cuts in funding from all sources totaling over $6 million in the last three school years (including 2010-11), about the only thing left to cut in the Wilkes schools is jobs.
He said he believed school officials could avoid laying off teachers or other employees by not filling some positions left vacant due to retirements or resignations, although the 42 school employees who retired this year was a smaller number than normal.
“We’re also talking to principals about class sizes” to determine where teacher reductions would have the least adverse impact, said Laws.
“We are trying to figure out some way to keep all the teaching assistants” now funded in the Wilkes schools,” he said, adding that 23 teaching assistant positions were eliminated in the last two years and teaching assistants earned less pay because they worked fewer hours with the hybrid 163-day school calendar.
He said the people who held 11 of these 23 positions became certified teachers after taking advantage of a Wilkes school program that provides tuition reimbursement for teacher assistants who get the additional education required to become certified teachers.
“Now, we’re hoping to not lose any more teaching assistants by moving people around,” said Laws.
The budget proposed by the legislature directs local school systems to find a total of $124 million more in spending cuts next year, at their discretion.
In addition to these discretionary cuts, the budget proposed by the legislature cuts funding for clerical and custodial positions by 15 percent, administrative office positions by 10 percent, guidance and media center positions by 5 percent and eliminates nearly all funds for textbooks in school systems statewide. Funds for staff development are also eliminated.
“I don’t think we can cut any more in those areas, so we would have to transfer funds from elsewhere,” he said.
He said it would be hard to cut more administrative positions at the school system’s central offices on Cherry Street, North Wilkesboro, beyond those already cut. Eliminated in recent weeks, he said, were the positions of director of secondary education, director of science and math, director of guidance and media center and director of diversity training, as well as two clerical positions.
Laws said the director of diversity training is taking a job outside the schools but the others are filling vacant jobs elsewhere in the school system.
The positions of Dr. Kay Lamb, deputy superintendent, Dr. Pat Mazza, director of instruction, and a receptionist, weren’t filled after those three retired last year. A fourth position, director of the Stone Family Center for Performing Arts, was eliminated last year.
Gov. Beverly Perdue and state education officials say these and other funding cuts for administrators, guidance counselors and janitors will result in the elimination of over 9,000 positions.
Gov. Perdue vetoed the budget proposed by the legislature, largely because she opposed its cuts in education spending. Republican legislative leaders said they have enough votes to override her veto.
Laws said he preferred spending plans for education in the governor’s proposed budget.
The budget proposed by the legislature cuts funding by 20 percent for both the More at Four preschool program and the Smart Start early childhood initiative. It shifts More at Four from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
Laws said he didn’t know what portion of the More at Four cut would be carried out at the state administrative level, so it’s hard to gauge the impact on local school systems.