8/16/15 TAs face uncertain future

TAs face uncertain future
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 8/16/15  
Reprinted with permission.

Teacher assistant Martina Boudreault waves goodbye to students at the end of the day’s classes at North Graham Elementary School.  
Steven Mantilla / Times-News

Teacher assistant Martina Boudreault waves goodbye to students at the end of the day’s classes at North Graham Elementary School.

   GRAHAM — After 20 years as a teacher assistant at North Graham Elementary School, Martina Boudreault is used to some uncertainty at budget time, but this year is worse than most.

   “That’s kind of scary when you think, ‘We’ve already started the year, we’re fine,’” Boudreault said. “It was more of a shock to get this letter.”

   At the end of last week, she and 152 other teacher assistants in the Alamance-Burlington School System got a letter from Superintendent Bill Harrison saying the district might have to cut their jobs depending on the General Assembly’s budget.

   The Legislature extended its budget deadline an additional two weeks Thursday, making this the latest a two-year budget was passed since 2001, according to The Associated Press. All three local legislators said Friday they were hearing the budget would be ready by the end of August.

   Some ABSS teacher assistants, like Boudreault and the other five at North Graham, are already working in year-round schools. Traditional-calendar schools start Aug. 24, so the rest could easily be at work when they find out whether they have jobs this year.

   The state House and Senate are divided on several issues, one of the big ones being whether to cut teacher assistants to reduce class size.

   “That’s something we cannot compromise on,” said Steve Ross, one of Alamance County’s representatives in the state House. “We’re not going to fire 8,500 teacher assistants.”

   Sen. Rick Gunn said the debate is important, but the budget needs to get done.

   “My concern is that we’re very late in the game, and I have relayed my concerns to the appropriations chairs in the General Assembly,” Gunn said.

   The difference between the two budgets is in the hundreds of millions, Gunn said.

   Rep. Dennis Riddell said he had heard the difference was as low as $150 million and as high as $300 million.

   Gunn said it was time for the two bodies to compromise, and it was the House’s turn to step toward the Senate and get a budget approved.

   “That will happen very quickly when the House appropriations gives us numbers that we can live with,” Gunn said.

   Riddell said at least the Legislature could let districts decide how to spend the money once they arrive at a figure.

   “The key is, ‘What does the local district need?’” Riddell said, “not what the state determines they need.”

   Gunn said smaller class sizes get better results, and when teacher assistants were first introduced in the 1970s, teachers would have 28 students in a class. With 15 students in a class, Gunn said, it makes sense to look at how many teacher assistants schools need.

   Smaller classes also mean using more classrooms.