I have a love-hate relationship with the last week of school. I love the final field trips, the laid-back atmosphere of the classroom, afternoon walks with my students, retirement luncheons and my students building log cabins out of random leftovers in our kitchen cabinet (see photos below). I hate filling out the packet of end-of-year forms (room inventories, room repairs, etc.), taking everything off the walls, stacking desks and moving tables and completing all the final paperwork to be sent home with students.
As much as these things annoy me, I was introduced to another “last week of school” activity that I dislike even more: unexpected, county-wide, special education staff meetings.
I received a phone call from my special education supervisor mid-week that there would be a big meeting on Thursday that me and my assistants were required to attend. She informed me that our superintendent would also be there. Of course, red flags immediately popped up in my mind. It wasn’t long until rumors began to spread about the cause of the meeting being a very significant budget cut to special education funding.
I walked into the meeting afraid for several reasons. First, I knew that no matter what happened, students with disabilities in my county would suffer due to loss of funds. Secondly, I knew that it was almost inevitable someone was losing their job. Thirdly, I feared that with only two and half years as a teacher, I’d be one of the first to go.
We were informed during the meeting that due to the budget sequesters currently taking place (which, after some research, I only vaguely understand), our county lost nearly $300,000 of federal special education funding for the upcoming school year. This is a huge number for a small county like mine that has only seven schools.
Sadly, two of my fears were actualized as a result of these cuts. Nine educational assistants lost their jobs, two of which were mine. I had already anticipated only having one assistant next year, but I have worked closely with this particular assistant for two years now and could not ask for a better person in my classroom. She is an irreplaceable asset to my students and a dear friend.
I was very thankful to be assured I did have a job for the upcoming year and will be in the same position, but was not promised an assistant at all. With 16 students with moderate to severe disabilities all on my own, I’m concerned about how much actual teaching I’ll be able to do. And this is just the situation in my class; the budget cuts hit every school in our small county hard. There’s no possible way this much staff can be cut and services for students remain the same. It’s impossible to give kids what they need without people.
So as my summer begins, I’m praying ardently that things turn around over the next couple of months. I’m praying that funds will become available in excess of what was lost and those that lost their jobs plus more will be hired.
This is my first experience with budget cuts, and probably will not be my last. As special educators, how have you and our students been affected by similar situations?