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John Thompson

Elizabethton Bureau Chief
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Elizabethton schools phasing out full-time assistants

July 22nd, 2011 11:23 am by John Thompson

ELIZABETHTON — The upcoming school year will be the last one for many full-time teaching assistant positions in the Elizabethton City School System. Over the next year, the system will be restructuring budgets with respect to teaching assistants with a change that could potentially replace 30 full-time positions with 55 part-time positions.
Corey Gardenhour, director of special education for the system, briefed Board of Education members on the plan during the monthly board meeting Thursday. He said the restructuring is being driven by a $100,000 to $150,000 shortfall.
It is caused by the increasing costs of the programs at a time when revenue is declining. He said there has been no increase in funding from the city for nearly 11 years. The situation is made worse by the end of stimulus funding and projected cuts in federal programs and special education.
Gardenhour said 97 percent of the special education budget is made up of employee salary and benefits and contracted services and benefits. The only place to make cuts to the budget was in personnel.
The restructuring plan allows for one-year advance notice of the proposed cuts. Beginning next month, the budget will be changed, moving all full-time Title I teaching assistants to regular teaching assistants, who will be paid out of one-time federal jobs money. At the end of the 2011-12 school year, those positions would no longer be funded.
The cost of a full-time teaching position salary and benefits is between $19,800 to $24,200. Those teaching assistants have contact with the students for 6.25 hours per day. A part-time teaching position costs $7,900 to $10,600 per school year and the assistants have contact with the students for 4.75 hours per day.
Gardenhour said the system could potentially employ approximately 55 part-time employees at a cost savings of $159,500. He told the board there will be a job for every current employee with satisfactory evaluations. There also will be increased service hours for students with special needs.
To sweeten the part-time positions, Gardenhour suggested the tuition policy be changed to allow the children of part-time employees to attend city schools tuition-free.
The board heard more pleasant news from Eddie Pless, director of data services for the school system. Pless said the recent Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program results released by the state show Elizabethton students exceeded state goals across the board.
Pless said 53.5 percent of city students in grades 3-8 were proficient or advanced in reading. That compared favorably to the state goal of 49 percent, but he warned the goal would increase to 66 percent next year.
In math, city students had 44.6 percent in the top two levels, compared to the state goal of 40 percent. In science, there were 69.5 percent of the students in the highest categories, and in social studies it was 87.5 percent.
One of the brightest points was the performance of T.A. Dugger eighth-graders in math. They achieved a growth percentage of 37.5 percent, the second highest in the entire state.
Pless said the writing assessment is still embargoed, but said the school system’s grades “were phenomenal. They are doing a lot of good things in writing.” He said there were no surprises in the TCAP results and the system did not have any appeals.
The board once again revealed its 3-2 split when it came time to select an attorney for the next school year. Board members Catherine Armstrong and Connie Baker have frequently expressed their dissatisfaction with having an attorney from Memphis. They were once again outvoted by Chairman Matt Cooter, Kim Birchfield and Rita Booher in again selecting the firm of Jackson, Shields, Yeiser and Holt to represent the board in legal matters.
“I really think Elizabethton has some of the best attorneys in the state of Tennessee,” Armstrong said. “Of course, I had some of them in school. (They were) very intelligent.”
Booher said her conversations with members of other school boards is that Elizabethton is lucky to have such a highly respected legal firm.
Armstrong and Baker said their chief objection was that board members did not have direct communication with the attorney.

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