A line that was already too long lengthened last week in Robeson County when 235 teachers assistants were told they no longer had a job.
That represents 40 percent of all the teachers assistants in the county, so it’s sure to be another weight on a school system that is already dragging behind sister systems across the state. The teachers assistants, used primarily in the lower grades, do a lot of the grunt work, including trying to maintain order, which used to be accomplished in schools with discipline, but not so much anymore because of the constant threat of litigation. Chaos is assured, but the forces that beat it back have been trimmed.
The absence of these teacher assistants can’t be used as an excuse for failure, but must inspire the remaining teachers and teachers assistants to double down on their efforts to make sure students, particularly those who are most at risk, don’t fall through the net. That said, it’s folly to believe that the loss of 235 assistants won’t have a profound effect unless the assumption is that they were always in the lounge drinking coffee.
We all watched somewhat disengaged as Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly sparred over the state budget that took effect on July 1, with Democrats arguing that education cuts were too deep, and Republicans countering that their plan was simply a shift of resources toward the lower grades.
The sticking point was a 1-cent sales tax that was scheduled to expire, that Democrats — most notably Gov. Bev. Perdue — wanted to extend, but Republicans wanted to sunset. The tax would have raised about $1.3 billion, enough money to fully fund education, and keep 235 Robesonians in our classrooms, teaching.
The ripple effect will be substantial. Many of these people cannot move easily into other employment because the jobs don’t exist and some, probably most, will end up drawing unemployment instead of wages. Some of those teachers who had plans to continue their education and become certified as regular teachers will now walk away from education, disillusioned, and can’t be counted on to fill teaching positions that are needed to keep up with the state’s growth.
There was about $4 million in salaries drained from the county, money that would have been spent on food, clothes, televisions, rent and recreation, fueling the economy, and floating the boats of others.
No one will suffer more than the 235 teachers assistants and their immediate families, but all of us will pay a price much higher than a penny.