Educators give lawmakers failing grade over late state budget

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- "If our students missed deadlines like this, there would be a failing grade," said Melinda Zarate with the North Carolina Association of Teacher Assistants at a news conference Thursday.

Zarate, flanked by teacher assistants from all over the state inside the legislative building in downtown Raleigh, asked lawmakers to pass a budget.

"The state budget is 44 days late," Zarate told a group of reporters.

As it stands now, the Senate's version of the budget would give raises to young teachers, reduce class size, and slash more than 8,500 teaching assistant jobs.

That has already had an effect on several counties as they get ready for the upcoming school year.

"No budget has passed, so schools are already cutting TAs from children's classrooms, Forsyth, Beaufort, and Pitt County have laid off teacher assistants," Zarate said. "Buncombe County has cut TAs from 8 hours a day to 7 hours a day, teacher assistants in Alamance, Burlington, Vance, and Pasquotank counties have gotten letters warning them of possible cuts."

Standing next to Zarate and taking a turn at the podium was Erica Johnson. Johnson has been a teaching assistant at Grove Park Elementary in Alamance County for eight years.

She told the crowd that she earns a salary of $19,000 a year. She said despite that she still takes care of her own three children while providing school supplies for her students. She's one of many who say taking away support in the classroom will be taking away from students.

"You here today, you lawmakers, do realize that you would not be sitting here today had it not been for someone with a title of teacher and teaching assistant? They were part of your foundation. They believed in you," said Johnson, as she spoke directly to lawmakers through the news cameras in the room.

Just a few weeks ago, Superintendent James Merrill with Wake County Schools told lawmakers in a budget meeting that any cuts to his budget would affect schools in session right now.

He told them teaching assistants are already working in the county's year-round schools.

Governor Pat McCrory attended an education event in Durham on Thursday where he was asked about the situation with teaching assistants.

"I think there is a need for teacher assistants, but what I refuse to do is get into the debate on the state making the decision for each school," said Governor McCrory.

He told the crowd, "We ought to give the same amount of money with necessary increases to the increase of students in North Carolina and let the schools decide."

"Do you want student assistants? Do you want more teachers? Or do you want a combination of both?" asked Governor McCrory. "I think that's a decision for the superintendent of schools to make, for principals to make, or even teachers to make among themselves, and not for Raleigh to make."

On Wednesday, the North Carolina House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution funding the government at current levels through August 31. Governor McCrory signed it Thursday.

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