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NC Schools Look To Cover Teacher Salaries After Budget Changes

teacher in a blur with classroom
Bart Everson
Flickr/Creative Commons

Many school districts in North Carolina are looking for ways to fund some of their teacher positions after changes in the state budget.  

Under the spending plan passed last week, school officials are no longer allowed to use money set aside for teacher assistants to pay for teachers.

In Cabarrus County, that means the school system lost funding for about 80 of its teachers.

“The most important position we have as a school system is our teachers, so to not be able to keep funding teachers the same way really ties our hands,” said Chris Lowder, superintendent of Cabarrus County Schools.

In order to avoid firing teachers, Lowder and school officials from other districts said they’ll likely have to dip into their reserve funds as a short-term solution.

Last year, more than 40 school districts used flexibility in the state budget to hire more teachers. In total, they diverted about $42 million out of $376 million in teacher assistant money.

Cabarrus County schools transferred about 58 percent of the money it received from the state for teacher assistants. In Wake, that number was 12 percent. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools diverted 36 percent.

“I definitely know that this change does hurt us,” said Suzie Ulbrich, spokeswoman for Onslow County Schools, which diverted about 24 percent of its teacher assistant money last year.

During budget negotiations, senate Republicans proposed cutting the equivalent of more than 8,500 teacher assistant positions to hire more teachers. Skeptical of the value of TAs, senators advocated for smaller class sizes.  

In the final budget compromise, lawmakers decided to fund TAs at last year’s levels, but to place restrictions on how schools could spend those dollars.

“It really needs to be used with what it’s designated for and if [schools] need money for other items, there are other flexibilities available,” said Republican Senator Tom Apodaca.

But school officials argue the legislative change could spell long-term problems.

“What it ultimately means is that our class sizes will be significantly bigger because of this decision. There’s no way around that,” Lowder said.

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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