By CALVIN ADKINS
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
The Edgecombe County Board of Education on Monday approved a budget that cuts 10 classroom teacher positions and 16 teacher assistant positions.
“We’ve tried to maintain the philosophy of saving as many teaching positions as we can, but we do value our teaching assistants,” said John Farrelly, superintendent of Edgecombe County Public Schools (ECPS). He called preparing the budget a “draining process,” saying it’s “difficult when we have to make cuts.”
A primary reason for the cuts is ECPS’ decrease in average daily membership this year, from 7,076 to 6,679 — a loss of 397 students. Farrelly said the salary of a teacher assistant is about half the salary of a classroom teacher, so the district would have had to cut eight additional classroom teacher positions if it had retained the 16 teacher assistant positions.
“I worry about our reading scores in the third grade, in taking some of our teaching assistants out of the classroom,” said Board Chair Ann Kent.
“I share the same concern,” said Farrelly. “These are tough decisions.”
Farrelly said the elementary schools will retain a teacher assistant in each kindergarten classroom.
The cuts will impact the number of assistants in first and second grade classrooms. At G.W. Bulluck Elementary School this year, each kindergarten and first grade classroom has a teacher assistant, but the school has only two assistants for its five second-grade classrooms. At Princeville Elementary, one assistant is shared between the school’s three second-grade classrooms.
In the face of deep budget cuts, Farrelly spoke of the need to continue to pursue grant funding to improve the literacy of elementary school students.
The district recently applied for a 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant to provide additional after school and summer instruction to students.
Classroom teacher and teaching assistant positions have already taken a hit in the district in the past year. In August 2012, ECPS cut 56 positions, including 12 classroom teachers and 12 teacher assistants.
The overall budget approved by the board reflected $1.5 million in cuts. The majority of the cuts were due to the opening of the county’s first charter school, North East Carolina Prep School, and the district’s subsequent loss of 318 students.
In addition to cutting 10 classroom teacher positions and 16 teacher assistant positions, the budget eliminates four Common Core curriculum lead teachers, a central office position, the AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) Program at SouthWest and Edgecombe Early College High Schools, and Kagan training.
Dr. Evelyn Johnson, board member, said she hoped the cuts would open up a much-needed conversation with the state on education.
“I hope this will open the door to the conversation that we’ve got to have,” Johnson said. “If we want kids to be ready, career-ready, we can’t keep cutting.”
Other board members nodded their heads in agreement.
“If education is a priority, then we need to make it a priority,” Johnson added.