Parents worry state cuts will ax teacher assistants

Local parents, teachers and community members hope next year’s budget includes more money for teacher assistants and technology. But with budget cuts from the state, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison said he fears the district could actually lose assistants.

“CMS has actually tried to keep as many teacher assistants as possible,” Morrison said. “The thing that worries me the most in (Gov. Pat McCrory’s) budget is he has proposed cuts for teacher assistants. In CMS, that’s $12 million in cuts. That means 400 assistants.”

Morrison met with parents, CMS staff and community members on Monday, April 22, at a special community budget meeting in south Mecklenburg where participants voiced questions and concerns about next year’s school budget.

Morrison recently presented his proposed budget of more than $1.2 billion at a CMS Board of Education meeting earlier this month. The proposal includes a request of nearly $366 million from the county and $716.5 million from the state. Federal spending and grants would make up most of the rest. That doesn’t include nearly $300 million in bond money the system is requesting voters approve to fund area capital improvement projects.

In the budget, Morrison points out that CMS has seen five straight years of “multimillion-dollar cuts and redirections within our budget” totaling more than $236 million since fiscal year 2009. This year’s budget would be a 2.8 percent increase from last year, though Morrison again points to past cuts – spending per student would be lower than it was in 2009 due to enrollment growth. Next year, the district expects about 3,000 additional students, Morrison said.

“I consider (teacher assistants) critical partners in our education. While I think we need to add teacher assistants, it’s going to be tough to keep the ones we have,” he said.

Morrison named several themes in the budget proposal he says district officials have rated as top priorities, including items like increased technology and infrastructure, more professional development for educators, choice and innovation in neighborhood schools, literacy and community partnerships.

But one aspect that has area stakeholders intrigued is the increased technology and infrastructure in schools.

“Technology has changed every aspect of our lives and it is changing our education,” Morrison said. “We have to embrace this idea that through the global Internet, (we can have) a place of learning for our students.”

Morrison said adding infrastructure to all schools means ensuring schools have the wireless capabilities throughout all facilities, including mobile units and cottages, not only for added benefits in the classroom but also as a requirement for state testing in the coming years. Morrison also said the technology factor would include more devices for teachers and students.

Morrison said the district also would need to provide teachers with the right training to ensure they are equipped to use technology in an effective manner.

One local chemistry teacher posed concerns about technology, stating that she needs more textbooks in the classroom and though the age of printed text is dying, she wonders how the district plans to ensure all students have access to e-books when Internet service is not available in every household.

“It is a very serious challenge of what happens when students go home,” Morrison said. “We’ve been working with different partners in the county and city, like Time Warner Cable, who has agreed to offer low prices for families in poverty.”

Though Morrison also added that, with the right infrastructure in schools, the hope is students will be able to achieve more while in the school building.

“While technology is a wonderful tool and offers many opportunities to fix achievement gaps, it can also create more gaps,” Morrison said. “We are not going to let the digital divide affect the quality of education for our students.”

Find more details on the district’s operating budget and capital plan on the CMS website, cms.k12.nc.us.

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