Fueled by the news that Macon County is losing teacher assistants because of more than $300,000 in additional cuts from the state, educators, parents and concerned members of the community gathered at Franklin High School Friday afternoon to participate in a "Walk4Education." With a joint theme of thanking Macon County commissioners and members of the Board of Education for their dedication to education and protesting the lack of commitment on the state level, dozens of community members marched from Franklin High School to Town Hall and back.
Joan Maki, who has served Macon County in the past as an educator helped organize the event.
"As a former teacher, it has dismayed me to see the gradual decline of respect toward education and teachers. When I began to read about our current legislature, I couldn't remain silent. Children deserve the best we have," said Maki. "Teachers deserve respect, equal opportunity and pay recognition for years in the classroom and advanced study. I feel that what has been done will in the short term cause tremendous difficulty for students, teachers and schools. In the long term, it will destroy what has taken about 50 years to accomplish."
Participants in the walk displayed signs that said 'Thank you Commissioners and BOE members," and "First in Flight, last in education." Children joined the march displaying signs that said, "Children should not have to pay for tax cuts."
Macon County teacher Dan Kowal spoke during a water break at Town Hall speaking to the drastic cuts the state legislators have made to public education.
"Our teacher assistants have been sliced in half under the new budget, a room full of seven-year-olds will only have one teacher, that just cannot be the status quo," said Kowal.
Maki echoed Kowal's statements. "The most devastating cut is both the monetary cuts to teacher pay and the direct slap at the professional status of teachers," she said. "What this legislature has done is sending a message that any teacher can be easily replaced. It was once stated to me that teachers are a dime a dozen. No, they aren't. Good teachers are few and far between. Most teachers are adequate or better. Some teachers really strive and have heart and accomplish miracles in the classroom. Very few are ever recognized for the capable, professional people they are."
Due to budget cuts on the state level, the Macon County Board of Education is having to make additional cuts before the school year starts. After submitting and receiving approval from county commissioners for the 2013-14 school year, the district was informed that they could be receiving less state funds than anticipated.
"The planning allotment that we received from DPI [Department of Public Instruction] told us to plan on receiving state funds to provide for 210.5 classroom teachers," said Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin. "Then, we received the actual funding for only 195.5 positions. We also received $345,348 less in our Teacher Assistant allocation than our planning allotment along with a 50 percent reduction in instructional supplies and 77 percent reduction in textbooks. These cuts are severe, especially considering that the planning allotment included a reversion of $1,096,500. “
The actual monetary difference in what Macon County planned for and what the county received is $1,612,715. “The planning allotment for teacher assistants was $1,642,751, the initial allotment came in at $1,305,361 which is a difference of $337,390,” said Macon County Finance Director Angie Cook. “State instructional supplies planning was $260,961. The actual allotment was $127,791. Textbook planning was $288,332 and actual was $62,773.
Dr. Baldwin said that because employees have resigned and retired, and although Macon County will be operating with significantly fewer employees this school year, he believes the school board will not have to send anyone home because of the cuts.
"The teachers that were approved last month are safe, but it is important to point out that we will begin the school year with fewer teachers, teacher assistants, lead teachers, and central office staff than we began the year with last year," said Baldwin. "At this point, we believe that we have been able to account for the reduction in our planning allotment through attrition, but it is going to be very close. We had budgeted for a safety net, in terms of a fund balance, but that now appears to be virtually eliminated. It is our goal to avoid going back to the county commissioners to ask for an allocation from the teacher supplement."
While the school system has managed budget cuts so far Cook is not optimistic that the school system can handle much more. “My opinion is that we have done extremely well under the circumstances. Everyone has pulled together to make it work and we will certainly have to continue to do that during the 2013- 2014 school year. We were able to finish last school year without going back to the County Commissioner’s for additional funding. If you remember, at the beginning of last year we thought we would be about $550,000 short. However, due to some changes throughout the school year and a concentrated effort district-wide we made it. I am not sure that we can cut any more than what we have. We have completed several transfers over the summer in order to equally distribute teacher assistants and made every effort to look at class sizes in order to determine appropriate staff levels at each location.”
Politics aside, Maki said she did not plan Friday's event to bash any one political party, but instead wanted to do her part to stand in support of public education throughout the state.
"I did not sponsor the Walk4Education as a political statement. My main objective was first to thank the local board of education and superintendent and the county commissioners for what they have done to try to alleviate the situation as much as possible," said Maki.