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CHCCS Board of Education Considers Reduction in Gifted Specialists

By Danny Hooley Posted March 21, 2014 at 3:46 am

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education could be making some tough cuts in its next budget.

One proposed reduction amounts to more than half a million dollars, and it’s angering some teachers and parents:

“If you’re not going to have a robust gifted-and-talented program, don’t advertise to the public that you do. Parents deserve to make an informed decision about their child’s education.”

That’s Karen Herpel, a parent from Carrboro.

Thursday night at Smith Middle School, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education held a work session to discuss budget issues.

Herpel and a few others spoke out against a proposal that would reduce the number of gifted specialists in classrooms.

According to budget recommendations released by Superintendent Tom Forcella on March 14, proposed cuts in gifted specialists would amount to a net reduction of $536,340.

That’s more than half of approximately $909,852 in reductions Forcella recommends. That figure amounts to about 40 percent of $2.2 million, the total budgetary hole the school system finds itself in.

In his March 14 recommendations, Forcella included some reminders of how the shortfall came to be. He cited the depletion of the fund balance, as well as reduced support from the Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly.

The recommendation to reduce gifted specialists in classrooms comes with assurances that it will be done through attrition and reassignments, and that no positions would be terminated.

But Helen Motta, a gifted specialist for Culbreth Middle School, said her concern is for students. She said she was skeptical of a plan to use coaching staff to support teachers in the classroom, in the absence of gifted specialists.

“Gifted specialists are experts in differentiation, and in understanding the needs of the individual student in the classroom, whereas coaches are more focused on teaching the curriculum, and working with teachers to teach the curriculum” she said. “Our coaches right now are only working with math and language arts teachers, whereas gifted specialists work with science and social studies teachers as well.”

She added that gifted specialists also understand the social and emotional needs of the students they work with.

Among the six board members present, there was some unease about the proposal. Mike Kelley suggested there should be some other options to consider.

But some board members seemed to be resigned to the idea that unwanted cuts are coming, and this is likely one of them.

Here’s Vice Chair Mia Day Burroughs, who is currently running for a seat on the Orange County Board of Commissioners:

“Of all the reductions that we could look at, this one is painful. But I think it is less painful than the others.”

And there could be more pain to come. Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Todd LoFrese mentioned that cuts in teachers assistants could be on the horizon.

One agenda item in Thursday night’s meeting managed to unite the audience of around 20 people.

As expected, the Board unanimously voted to oppose General Assembly legislation that eliminates teacher tenure in 2018 and offers four-year contracts to 25 percent of teachers.

That got a round of applause.

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