Surry County Schools officials held two meetings Thursday with teacher assistants throughout the county, explaining the possible fallout from a potential budget cut by the General Assembly which would result in significant cuts to teacher assistant money.
The plan, championed by GOP state senate officials, would eliminate more than 1,700 teacher assistant positions across the state in the coming year and more than 5,000 the following year, although the senate would also add about 3,000 fulltime teachers across the state. The House of Delegates’ plan would cut fewer assistants.
School Superintendent Travis Reeves said that adding new teacher money would do little to help Surry County, because there is no classroom space, yet a $1.8 million cut in state money for local teacher assistants could cost 61 of the 117 positions countywide.
Thursday’s meetings between school officials and teaching assistants was an opportunity for school leaders to explain what’s going on and ways they can work together to preserve the positions even if the state cuts are approved.
The first meeting was held at 8 a.m. North Surry High school, where about 68 teacher assistants and three principals attended. The second meeting was held at 4 p.m. at Rockford Elementary School, where about 50 teacher assistants and principals attended.
Reeves told those in attendance the school board is considering several options aimed at keeping as many of the teacher assistants as possible employed and in the classroom. The school board already discussed utilizing $220,000 that had been funding tutoring programs to pay for teacher assistants.
Reeves discussed cutting hours from 40 to 35 or 30 hours per week, while still keeping full time benefits available to all employees.
Another option is having teacher assistants only work during hours while students are attending school.
“Our goal is to take funds from elsewhere and put them into our TA’s,” Reeves expressed.
If jobs are eliminated, school officials said they would follow their classified staff reduction policy, which is based on longevity with the school system and job performance.
While Reeves told the employees he wishes he could give them a definitive answer he simplyh cannot at this point, while the General Assembly is still debating the measure.
Assistant Superintendent Charles Graham suggested the assistants look for additional part time jobs within the school system such as bus driver or cafeteria worker. “The more positions you involve yourself in, the more valuable you become to our schools.”
Holly Hoosier, a teacher assistant at Rockford Elementary, said “I feel better knowing my options. When I first heard I thought I was out of a job.”