Teachers get the top-billing in most stories about education budget cuts. But there are a lot of other people who make a school run such as guidance counselors, school psychologists and social workers. CMS wants the county to foot the bill to add about forty of these positions next year.
CMS school psychologist Brent Croker likens a school to a human body.
“Ligaments, joints and tendons” is how he classifies himself and other support staff at Winding Springs Elementary in north Charlotte.
“I help the muscles move in a school,” says Croker.
Those muscles, he says, are the teachers. There are about 4,000 fewer of them in public schools across the state compared to just five years ago. But some of those ligaments, joints and tendons have also been cut.
“I used to be full-time in one school. Several years ago they did a reduction in force and essentially cut the number of school psychologists more than in half,” says Croker.
He now splits his time between Winding Springs elementary and one other school nearby. CMS did hire counselors to take over the psychologists’ workload, but still a lot falls to administrators like Principal Penny Presley and her team.
“When it comes to assessing students and then following up with families and the medical community and getting them the additional assistance they need, we need those folks who are out there in the trenches and have that background and understand what these children need,” says Presley.
CMS wants Mecklenburg County to pay an extra $3.7 million to fund four more school psychologists, three social workers, and 33 counselors. State money for support positions like these has fallen 8 percent over the past five years.
Winding Springs used to have a social worker, but now the school’s counselor Michael Morton does that work, too. She does home visits to check up on attendance issues, help get families the resources they need, and check on other issues in the home.
Only about 40 CMS schools have social workers. That’s half the number that did five years ago.
But now like most CMS schools Winding Springs has a full-time school nurse. That was something Mecklenburg County commissioners decided last year was important to fund.
So far teacher raises have dominated budget talks. Commissioners don’t want to pay for something that’s usually the responsibility of the state. They may have the same concerns with these support positions.