08/12/13 — Schools awaiting word from DPI

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Schools awaiting word from DPI

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 12, 2013 1:46 PM

The state budget recently passed contains several cuts that will affect education in Wayne County Public Schools, officials say, including an estimated 1,000 tenured teachers and the 450 instructional assistants.

Among the most highly contested and debated are:

*Cuts to the teacher assistant program of an estimated 21 percent, or $120 million.

*Phasing out the Teaching Fellows program, which provided scholarships to students to enter the profession.

*Doing away with teacher tenure.

*No longer giving raises to educators who obtain a master's degree.

School officials say they are anxiously awaiting word from the state Department of Public Instruction before determining how deep the cuts will be for the school system.

Tenure, obtained after a teacher has completed a three-year probationary period, is a form of job security as educators receive more "due process" and less possibility of being terminated without cause.

"The district has 1,250 teachers," said Dr. Marvin McCoy, assistant superintendent for human resource services. "Of that, 250 are in the beginning teacher program. The rest would be career status (tenured)."

Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for fiscal services, said the elimination of raises to those obtaining a master's degree will especially affect those currently in the process of doing so.

"If they have a master's, they're good to go," she said. "If they get them after this, they get a $500 annual pay increase in 2014-15. Basically from what I've read, if they receive it by April, they're grandfathered in. If they don't receive (it) until May, they will not be grandfathered."

The situation presents the possibility that the district will lose highly qualified teachers, said McCoy.

"As the budget unfolds there are concerns with recruitment," he said Thursday. "Even with those that are in the pipeline working on a master's."

McCoy said that earning advanced degrees has long been an incentive and if compensation stops, will not only impact teachers but the universities and colleges as well.

"In my research, those coming in and applying for the schools of education are down," he said.

The Teaching Fellows program, which pays for the potential teacher's college education and the loan is forgiven if they teach in a state public school for four years, has also drawn candidates to the profession. McCoy said to date, an estimated 57 Teaching Fellows have worked in the school system.

"With the cuts, knowing there's no incentive for the teachers to better themselves education-wise because they're not going to get paid, they're not going to go in debt," he said.

The changes are already affecting recruitment efforts. In previous years, the teacher shortage has prompted travel to such states as Michigan, where a surplus of candidates have been hired to relocate to North Carolina.

"This year, we did not go to Michigan and it did change," McCoy said. "The budget caused us to limit our travels to the out-of-state agencies. This is the Catch-22. We did our local job fair for those that would come."

It is expected to get worse, he added.

"North Carolina is 46th, 48th in teacher pay and now no incentives," he said, prompting the obvious question on candidates' minds -- "'Why should I go to North Carolina when I can go next door to South Carolina and get a higher rate?'

"Legislators have kind of shot us in the foot and are expecting us to do more with less."

To preserve the future means protecting teacher jobs, he maintains.

"I'm an advocate for teachers and anything I can do to help enhance their lives," he said. "The budget changes have definitely thrown a monkey wrench."

At this point, it would be pure speculation to throw out numbers of potential personnel cuts in the district. School officials have held on to positions as much as possible, through attrition, retirements and not filling positions that are vacated.

To further complicate things, the issue of instructional assistants is more involved than just having an extra person in the classroom to serve as back-up to the assigned teacher.

"Looking at the total assistant population -- they have teacher assistants, EC (exceptional children) teacher assistants that have special training, K-3 teacher assistants," said Ms. Barwick.

McCoy said because there is a "large spectrum of categories," that distance learning facilitators and behavior specialists are also considered assistants. Even media coordinators come into play, he said, explaining that if need be, they could be reassigned to a teacher assistant role.

He estimated the district currently has between 440-450 instructional assistants. Numbers are approximate, McCoy said, but basically it breaks down to an average of six at each of the six regular high schools, or a total of 36; five at each of the eight middle schools, or 40; and around 26 at each of the 14 elementary schools, or 364.

As cuts and changes sift out, McCoy added, expect another by-product -- an impact on the student-to-teacher ratio.