RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Public school administrators are warning of potential layoffs of school employees and asking the General Assembly to intervene.
In a letter this week, the Division of Principals and Assistant Principals in the Wake County Public School System, said they anticipate the COVID-19 pandemic having an impact on enrollment this year that could lead to funding cuts.
“Understandably, school staff could not have anticipated such variance to projected student enrollment, and our schools simply cannot afford to lay off or displace highly qualified public school staff because of these unpreventable changes,” the letter reads.
Scott Lassiter, assistant principal at Connections Academy Middle School in Cary, said if there are cuts he’s concerned about whether schools will be ready once it’s safe for students to return in person.
“The idea that some (educators) would have to turn in their keys and badge and be laid off only to need them to back in a few months is really concerning,” he told CBS 17. “And, it needs to be handled quickly. This is a time-sensitive issue that has some huge effects, not just for our teaching workforce but for parents, for students.”
Lassiter is calling on the General Assembly to pass a bill next week that will hold school districts “harmless for reductions in their projected student enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year.”
Johnston County Public Schools, which has been among the fastest-growing school districts in the state in recent years, is reporting a drop in enrollment this school year.
A district spokesperson said Wednesday’s enrollment of 36,685 students is down 544 compared to last year.
“Any position lost would be a travesty because these are teachers who have risen to the challenge, and many times they became members of COVID-19 response teams,” said Lassiter.
State Sen. Brent Jackson (R-10th District) told CBS 17 that legislative leaders were discussing the issue Thursday as they prepared to return to Raleigh for their session next week.
“We’re in unprecedented conditions here that none of us have been in before. But, we’re gonna try to hold them as harmless as possible,” he said.
State Superintendent Mark Johnson said about two-thirds of students in North Carolina are in school districts operating under Plan C, which is the all-remote option. Gov. Roy Cooper (D) allowed schools to operate at a minimum under Plan B, which is a hybrid of remote and in-person learning.
During a legislative meeting this week, state Rep. Pat Hurley (R-Randolph) said she’d spoken with school administrators in her district who are concerned if they lose funding now they may not be prepared if families decide to return to public schools later this year.
“They said maybe even in January they could have a lot of students coming back when home schooling doesn’t work or private school or whatever. But, they definitely need this to stay where it is,” she said.
The General Assembly is expected to vote next week on how to spend remaining funding the state has from the CARES Act (at least $552 million) and on budget requests made by Gov. Cooper.
“The reality is that sharp fluctuations in funding is going to directly translate to keeping people employed in our school systems,” said Rep. Ashton Clemmons (D-Guilford).
In his budget proposal this week, Cooper called for one-time bonuses for school employees. Those include:
- $2,000 for K-12 public school teachers, instructional support personnel, principals and assistant principals.
- $1,000 for K-12 non-certified public school personnel.
- $1,500 for UNC System and NC Community College System personnel.
Sen. Jackson said Cooper’s overall proposal spends too much.
“We do not believe the money exists to do those bonuses at the rate he has requested. Also, we have sent him three bills with teacher pay increases, and all those in the past have been vetoed. So, to revisit that at this point in time, we do not feel like it’s a viable thing to do. But, we are looking at it,” he said. “As far as spending every dime we have available, that’s not something I expect the General Assembly doing because we know we’re going to face a substantial budget shortfall coming next year.”
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