Who’s taking support out of classrooms?

June 20, 2014 

Last year, this newspaper tried to tell its readers how many teacher assistants Johnston schools employed. We didn’t have much luck.

The schools said the only readily available information was the state allotment for teacher assistants – a dollar amount that would allow the schools to employ a certain number of assistants based on student enrollment. When we asked how many assistants were actually at work in Johnston classrooms, the schools said they didn’t know, and they said gathering the information would be cumbersome because it would require them to contact every principal of every school with a teacher assistant allotment. That’s because principals decide how to spend those allotments.

A year later, the schools know now what they didn’t know then. At a school board meeting earlier this month, Superintendent Ed Croom said changes proposed by state lawmakers would cost the schools 80 teacher assistants and 35 classroom teachers. So now our readers know their schools are using teacher assistant dollars to employ at least 35 regular classroom teachers.

But truth be told, we suspect the schools had that information last year when we asked, so the question is why they didn’t want to share.

A cynical view says school leaders in Johnston and elsewhere want parents to believe what critics of state lawmakers are saying – that the GOP-controlled legislature is on the verge of gutting classrooms of much-needed support. But the truth, according to Johnston County schools, is that principals long ago made the decision to take teacher assistants out of classrooms.

We’re confident principals are putting the dollars to what they think are better uses – reducing class size perhaps or offering remediation to children struggling in reading or math. So why aren’t the schools willing to defend that spending? Do they not trust parents to understand?

With their silence, school leaders are perpetuating the myth that reducing the ranks of teacher assistants is something only cruel state lawmakers would do; principals, we know, have already done that. What school leaders should be saying aloud is that proposed state spending threatens programs vital to helping children succeed. Like principals, we suspect the schools are putting teacher assistant dollars to better uses. We’re just not afraid to say so.

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