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BOE to cut nearly 30 educators' jobs

The Screven County Board of Education agreed Monday night to allow the administration to eliminate 29 and a half positions for the next school year. Officials say the job cuts will save the school system more than $2 million on the budget and will keep the BOE from raising taxes.

The cuts will be in each of the schools in the system, said Superintendent Whit Myers after the board met in closed executive session for two hours and 30 minutes on the personnel matters. The reduction in force also will include administrative members.

“There will be five less administrators next year than we have currently,” Myers said.

Myers said 14 educators have announced they will retire after the conclusion of this 2008-2009 school year. The superintendent said while the retirees will help with the budget crisis, not all of the positions of the 14 of those headed to retirement are on the positions cut list.

To reduce the number of teachers at the high school, one of the two planning periods at SCHS will be eliminated. The educators now will teach six out of seven periods.

The middle school will cut its planning period from 90 minutes down to 55 minutes. The school system also will take advantage of State Superintendent Kathy Cox’s two-year waiver to allow additional students in classrooms.

“Fourth and fifth grades can have as many as 30 students, but we aren’t going to go that high,” Myers said. “We tried to impact students in the classroom as little as possible. We did the best we can do.”

The PerformanceLearningCenter, a computer-based high school program that has energized the county’s graduation rate, will be cut. The approximately 20 students from that program not on track for graduation this year will be moved back into the high school setting. The CrossroadsAlternative School, also located on

Pine Street
away from the high school campus, will be eliminated in its current capacity.

Myers said the middle school students in the alternative school will be kept at SCMS. Although the exact plan for the high schoolers in Crossroads has not been finalized, Myers said he may have a solution.

The superintendent said the SCHS students in the alternative school could serve their time in the PLC labs after school hours.

“But that is just my idea. I have not even introduced that to the board,” Myers said.

Since some of the educators involved in this reduction in force have tenure, the names of the teachers affected by budget crunch have not been released to the public. Those educators with tenure are afforded a hearing before the school board. If the BOE chooses to reinstate the teacher, another teacher may be selected to cover the lost savings in pay.

“Until we get through this process, it is going to be very sensitive,” Myers said. “We are just starting the process.”

The release of one educator may have a direct effect on another teacher who lives in the same household. The elementary, middle and high schools each have educators whose spouse teaches in other locales of the school system.

Tenure for teachers is three consecutive years within the ScrevenCounty system plus the acceptance of a fourth year. An educator who was certified in another school district and hired into ScrevenCounty must be offered and accept a second year locally to receive tenure in Sylvania.

Educators must be told before the final deadline of April 15 if they will not be offered a job for the next school year.

The administration declined to provide names of those who will retire, but Sam Thompson, an assistant principal at the high school, sent a letter to staff of her decision to conclude her career after this school year.

“I have been fortunate to work with the staff and students here,” said Thompson, who in her 34 years served as a teacher for 12 years and 22 as an administrator. “When I leave, a big part of me will be left behind.

“My decision to retire was my choice. It was mine to make,” Thompson said. “I could have chosen to stay, but it was the right choice for me at this time.”

Thompson said the sluggish economy affects everyone, including school systems.

“Education is not immune from financial challenges,” she said. “Everybody is seeing cuts with the way our economy is.

“It is difficult to do more with less,” Thompson said of next year’s local reduction in educators. “Having fewer teachers is what makes it so difficult, but we are blessed to have an abundance of good teachers. I have faith it will work itself out.”

ScrevenCounty and other school systems across the state have been slammed with serious budgetary issues. Earlier this week, the city of Marietta school board voted to cut its budget by more than $3.2 million by eliminating 58 full-time positions, including 38 teachers.

Like ScrevenCounty, the Marietta board, chose that course of action to counteract the reductions in state and local funding.

“As superintendent, my goal and my staff’s goal was to present a budget to the board for next year that allows them not to raise taxes,” Myers said.

Although it is unlikely with the current economic situation, Myers said the board may be able to hire back some teachers if the district’s budget status improves.

“The ultimate goal is to come up with a budget so we don’t have to raise taxes,” Myers said.

Myers e-mailed a letter that explained the reductions in force to those in the school system at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

Within the e-mail, Myers told all BOE employees that the school board gave the administration the authorization to “implement reduction in force plan that the principals and I have been working on for the past several weeks.

“Those staff members impacted by the reductions have been informed or are in the process of being informed,” Myers wrote. “Several of those impacted do have due process or ‘tenure’ rights and thus will have the opportunity to request a hearing before the board. Those hearings will take place over the next few weeks.

“According to the outcomes of any hearings that may take place, it may be necessary to reinstate some of those employees,” the superintendent wrote. “Everyone must understand those outcomes may force us to look at other certified employees for possible reductions in order to reach the original savings target. Also, additional personnel cuts, on a smaller scale, may be required.”

Myers informed the employees that no teaching contracts were approved at the board meeting. Those contracts traditionally are considered at the March board meeting.

“During these very difficult times, I trust we will all pull together and be patient and understanding of each other. These cuts are very deep and hurt a lot of our folks. I wish we did not have to make them. Some may think we have always been overstaffed her or there, but we have come a very long way as a school system. Every position and every staff member played some important role in the success our school system has enjoyed. We will be challenged now to keep doing what we need to do with less staff,” Myers said.

At the January BOE meeting Myers alerted the system of the lack of funding and the necessary reduction-in-force plans to sidestep the chances of another tax hike mere months after board members approved a 3 mill increase. In August, citizens unhappy with the possibility of paying more taxes packed the boardroom at the BOE’s central office for the three public hearings.

The first round would cut the school system’s budget by $1.4 million. A second round, if necessary, would mean a total of $1.8 million of cuts, while a third round of cuts, also if necessary, would make the total reductions more than $2 million.

If all three rounds of the cuts are done, it would exclude 30 employees with certificates.

Barring additional cuts, the administration will reduce the number of employees for the 2009-2010 school year within a half position of that max of 30 to save $2 million-plus on the budget.

A teacher’s years of experience will be taken into consideration during reduction of force, but any educator can be dismissed.

“Factors to be considered by the superintendent in devising a RIF plan shall include, first and foremost, the professional expertise, effectiveness and overall job performance of individual employees,” the board policy reads.

According to the policy, five instances are listed are legitimate reasons for a reduction in force. The school system currently is in the midst of three of those five.

That trio includes “A decrease in student enrollment in the School District which would necessitate a decrease in personnel or a discontinuation of programs,” “A loss of funds due to a reduction in state funds, reduction in local funds or other funds that make necessary a reduction in spending,” and “A lack of funding for programs, personnel, or services provided by the School District.”

According to the reduction in force policy, “when the superintendent determines that the application of the RIF policy is necessary, it shall be his or her primary responsibility to prepare for presentation to the Board of Education a plan for reduction in force in the affected program areas.

“In making recommendations for termination or downgrading of employee positions, the superintendent may consider any position or employee of the Board of Education.

“Factors to be considered by the superintendent in devising a RIF plan shall include, first and foremost, the professional expertise, effectiveness and overall job performance of individual employees. Only where demonstrated competence and expertise are equal among employees shall other factors such as tenure status, level of certification, and length of continuous service with the Board be considered in order to make recommendations for the termination or downgrading of an employee’s position.

Deemed “controversial” even by the administration, the school board last month rejected a proposal by Myers in a 4-2 vote that would have given a one-time $10,000 bonus to educators with retirement credentials if those instructors voluntarily opted to call it a career. The proposal also included a $3,000 payout for non-certificated employees.

Board members who disagreed with the proposition said the proposal might be too costly and too risky.

Administration said the bonus incentive was not done to force teachers out, but rather to coax those who might have considered retirement to do so this year before the reduction in force.