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Freeze on substitutes in Mecklenburg County raises concerns in classroom
SoVaNow.com / February 29, 2012With the school division struggling to close a projected $2.3 million shortfall in the upcoming year, one of the Central Office’s penny-pinching moves in the current budget cycle has raised eyebrows — and fears — among teachers and parents alike.
The topic of concern? Substitute teachers — and the absence thereof.
Buried in a pile of daunting budget news last week was the revelation that the Central Office has put a freeze on the hiring of substitutes for the classroom — leaving teachers and principals to cope with the challenges posed by teacher absences, both planned and unexpected, as best they can.
One parent, Casina Sandifer, told trustees last week that she and other parents fear that the quality of their children’s education is in jeopardy. “Classes are combined and overcrowded. The best students are forced into classes with those who aren’t up to their level. The children can’t learn under these conditions.”
The freeze on substitute teachers is due to an anomaly in the current budget year, which runs through June, explained Superintendent of Schools James Thornton. When the School Board developed its spending plans last spring, “we used historical data to budget for substitute pay. We budgeted the same amount this year as in the past two years.”
Before, the school division came close to running out of money for substitute teachers, but it never exceeded the total allocated amount. “We have reached that total already this school year,” said Thornton. He attributed the problem to a larger-than-usual number of long term illnesses, teachers on maternity leave, and an increase in overall use of substitutes.
For the 2011/2012 school year, Mecklenburg schools hired 34 long-term substitutes – 19 during the first semester and another 15 in the current semester. After using up the entire allocation for substitute teachers, schools were presented with a choice: either shift funds from other needed items to pay for substitutes or deploy teachers or other personnel on a spot basis to take their place. The schools chose to move personnel.
Thornton agreed that it is unfortunate that the school budget is inadequate to cover the hiring of substitute teachers for the remainder of the current school year. “This problem could not have been predicted.”
He further attributed the problem to cuts in education funding over the past six years. Both federal and state funds are continuing to decline in real terms, while local funding for education has been flat, said Thornton, noting that Mecklenburg schools have suffered almost $7 million in lost revenue during the period. As a result, schools do not have any cushion or rainy day fund to cover emergencies or anomalies, he added.
Thornton assured Sandifer and other parents that county students will not suffer academically due to the freeze. “Building level principals have developed plans to use aides, teachers, and other staff to fill in when a substitute is needed.”
Occasionally, classes are combined for a day or two. Ann Dalton, principal at Clarksville Elementary, said this occurs only “if there is a valid academic reason.” She, like Thornton believes the students are not suffering if they have to share one teacher for a day or two, or a class or two. “We are still using long term substitutes for teachers.”
For now, Thornton says there is no money for substitutes. “We cannot spend money we don’t have.”
CommentsAgain, how can a math teacher cover a biology class and the students not suffer academically? Lies.
- By Heather LaBone on 02 / 29 / 12
CommentsUsing aides and other staff to fill in? How is that not going to jeopardize their learning? What exactly is "other staff". Are the janitors going to start teaching language and science? Oh wait...they're trying to get rid of them too. Maybe the lunch ladies can pitch in as well.
- By Kimberly on 03 / 04 / 12
CommentsHonestly, this is not the best situation by far, but after seeing the quality of some of the subs that my children have experienced, I'd rather have any teacher with a B.A. in the classroom than some of the subs they hire!
- By concerned parent on 03 / 06 / 12
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