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Impending Cuts Force N.C. to Balance Performance, Need

From Guest Blogger Liana Heitin

Last week, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board, facing an $87 million budget deficit, approved a plan that would lay off 456 teachers and 83 assistant principals, according to the Charlotte Observer. Heated that administrative contracts are not being slashed first, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators responded by organizing a rally and marching to the government offices with signs and banners.

Superintendent Peter Gorman has emphasized that the plan is no more than a draft and that he is looking elsewhere to make cuts. Although stimulus money may help, he claims, the state budget looks less than promising and a blueprint is needed now.

While teacher layoffs are becoming pervasive, the cutbacks in North Carolina are attention-worthy for a few reasons. First, the layoffs will be based primarily on performance rather than seniority (contrary to initial reports). This obviously riles up the unions, which have less bargaining clout in a right-to-work state such as North Carolina. In addition, teachers in high-needs areas (such as math, ELL, and special education) and Teach for America recruits will be not be affected by the layoffs.

Does it seem somewhat contradictory to declare performance as the top priority yet exempt entire groups from having to demonstrate competence to keep their jobs? More than likely, school officials see the exemptions as a logistical necessity, to ensure that high-needs classes and high-poverty schools are proportionately staffed. Yet even though teachers will unite in opposing layoffs, I imagine that giving some staff members immunity could become divisive.

In a truly meritocratic system, all teachers would be evaluated and the lowest performing let go. However, tougher decisions must be made. Will students suffer more if the one highly-qualified ELL teacher in the school is laid off and classes are canceled or if a more effective English teacher is fired in his/her place?

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