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The Daily Tar Heel

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools balances budget — at a cost

The district lost more than 20 teacher assistant positions due to cuts in state funding, according to CHCCS Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Todd LoFrese.

This year, the North Carolina General Assembly decreased the state allotment for elementary school teacher assistant positions by 22 percent, a cut of about $800,000, LoFrese said.

Many of the positions cut were vacant, so no jobs were actually lost, just fewer people hired, said CHCCS spokesman Jeff Nash.

“As positions started to become vacant over recent months, we knew not to fill them with permanent people,” Nash said.

This process began during the 2013-14 school year. Still, parents and teachers are concerned about the change to the classroom environment.

At Mary Scroggs Elementary School, there is one teacher assistant for all four fourth-grade classes and another for all four fifth-grade classes.

“The teachers are more stressed; there’s that extra person that’s not getting the grading and lessons and kind of helping out,” said parent and Chapel Hill resident Carolyn Christians, expressing concern about her fifth-grade daughter’s experience.

“If the teacher has to do all the busy work, then she doesn’t have time to do the more higher-thought work.”

Mary Scroggs Elementary fifth-grade teacher James Nohe said he also feels the loss.

“We have an amazing teaching assistant, but then unfortunately the teaching assistant position becomes more of a clerical position,” Nohe said of being down to one fifth-grade teaching assistant, Kristen Perone.

Nohe said that teamwork between teachers and their assistants is invaluable to keep kids relaxed and focused.

“We become Abbott and Costello together,” he said. “When one of us needs to come down hard, we can be good-cop-bad-cop.”

Perone noted the loss of individual attention for kids.

“The loss of teaching assistants translates to less student assistance,” Perone said in an email. “Small-group work is compromised as is one-on-one instruction.”

The CHCCS Board of Education faced a local budget shortfall of $911,130 for the 2014-15 school year.

“The 2014-15 budget process was especially difficult due to the fact that we no longer have the fund balance to overcome deficiencies in state support,” CHCCS Superintendent Tom Forcella said, referring to the CHCCS Board of Education’s reserve funds, which ran out in 2013.

The budget was approved on Aug. 14. Overcoming the deficit and being able to give all CHCCS employees a pay increase was made possible by increasing local funding and cutting positions.

CHCCS always received high levels of funding from local tax money, and the county commissioners granted the board’s request for a local property tax increase this year as well , Nash said.

“The people from the community do tax themselves at a higher rate willingly to have what they want at their schools,” Nash said. “We’re thankful for the community’s support.”

Some cuts were necessary, but Nash said that very few, if any, employees were lost.

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Nash said one change that saved the schools money was transitioning custodial positions to a contracted service.

“We felt that the part-time custodial reductions were the furthest from the classroom and would have the least negative impact on students,” LoFrese said.

“Last year, 11 of our 19 schools used a custodial service for cleaning. We have been successful with this approach, and have used it since 1999.”

The schools also reduced the number of central office and gifted specialist positions.

city@dailytarheel.com