Caldwell schools lose 75 staff positions

Aug. 13, 2013 @ 04:08 PM

When Caldwell County teachers and students return to the classroom Aug. 26, they’ll see the results of a number of cuts and changes made official by the recently passed state budget – including the loss of 75 staff positions for the Caldwell County Schools.

The school system lost funding for 43 teachers, 30 teacher assistants and two instructional support staff members. The teacher-assistant cuts were long expected, and the 43 teaching positions cuts come as the result of a reduction in the teacher allotment from the state.

Caldwell County superintendent Steve Stone said there will be no layoffs. The district will instead freeze hiring and leave positions vacant as staff members resign or retire. In the interim, the board will dip into its fund balance to pay those teachers, teacher assistants and instructional support staffers.

“The board does not want to lay off anyone,” Stone said. “That’s the primary goal, is if someone is doing a good job and wants to work in Caldwell County Schools, they’re going to maintain them.”

Teachers across the state will also lose the opportunity for increased pay based on advanced degrees. Anyone who finishes a master’s degree later than April 1, 2014 will not receive a resulting pay raise.

Stone called that change a “slap in the face,” saying many who had invested money and time in their degrees would not receive raises they’d expected.

“It’s what education is about,” he said. “It’s about being a continuous learner, a lifelong learner. We’ve encouraged these folks to go back.”

Other cuts also will impact schools this year. Class sizes will increase from one to three students per class. Funding for textbooks was cut by 77 percent, a $634,000 reduction. Funding for instructional supplies – which covers basic supplies such as paper and pencils – was cut by 51 percent, a reduction of $374,000.

Stone said funding for instructional supplies was never what it should have been, even before the cut.

“That’s why teachers dip into their pockets,” Stone said. “The average teacher spends hundreds of dollars every year. They dip into their pockets to pay for things.”  

The budget did come with some advantages and additions for public schools. In Caldwell County, it will add 25 to 30 pre-K slots, allowing the district to serve students in two new pre-K classrooms at Gamewell Elementary and Baton Elementary.

That program has consistently drawn more interest than it has space, then-interim director Teresa Branch said in June. The program will now feature 10 classes at seven schools, instead of eight classes at six. Eventually, school officials hope to expand the program to all 12 elementary schools in the county.  

The budget also provides $18 million for third-grade reading camps and $12 million for digital learning statewide. It also provides $9 million statewide in matching funds for school security. Those funds mainly provide for additional School Resource Officers, but also for security cameras and panic bars, spring-loaded devices that allow occupants of a building to leave through locked doors during emergency situations, Stone said.

The school system must provide matching funds for any of the school-security funding they would receive. For now, the Caldwell County Schools will seek grants to provide the matching funds, Stone said.