BURLINGTON, N.C. -- More than 150 teacher assistants received letters over the past few days from the Alamance-Burlington School System, letting them know that they could be at risk of losing their jobs, even after the school year starts.
All teacher assistants who received the letter work with students in kindergarten through third grade.
The letter, from Superintendent William Harrison, explained, "we are apprehensive that there may be additional statewide budget reductions to elementary teacher assistant allotments for grades K-3 that will impact our district."
The letter continued by reiterating the school system's focus on the well-being of students and staff, but that the budget is up to the state.
"I guess I am glad to know ahead of time, versus it hitting me out of the blue," said eight-year teacher assistant Erica Johnson.
Johnson said she already knew her job was in jeopardy because of the legislature's failure to pass a budget, but she said the letter made it seem like more of a real threat that she could lose her job. She said it reinforced her feelings that the legislature undervalues teacher assistants, especially in elementary school.
"We're not just important to the teachers," she said. "We're important to students. We're important to parents. I don't just put up bulletin boards. I don't just pass out papers."
Despite job insecurity that teacher assistants frequently face, Johnson said she would never consider leaving for another career at her own will.
"The kids. Knowing that those kids need me. Giving them a smile in the morning, a hug. If they're crying, to wipe those tears. It's the kids that keep me coming back," she said.
In anticipation of further budget cuts by the state, Guilford County Schools has opted to reduce the number of days each teacher assistant will work, so as to try and avoid having to lay off any TAs.
A spokesperson for Surry County Schools said officials there are not making any changes to the TAs numbers or schedules until a final state budget is released.