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School board grapples with budget and job security

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By Jenna McKenna

The school district budget and the security of teacher positions was again top in everyone's mind at Tuesday's meeting of the Levy County School Board. In a non-agenda item early in the meeting, Levy County Education Association President Cindy Roach asked the board why, if the coming year's budget was only 1.09 percent less than last year's, the district had not moved to rehire some of the 21 veteran teachers who recently lost their jobs due to budget cuts.

“In the second semester of the 2008-2009 school year, we were able to cut some $600,000 without losing any teachers,” she said.

However, she said, the district had created four new district-level positions, an inappropriate decision for an administration concerned with maintaining quality education in the face of losing large numbers of classroom teachers.

Superintendent Robert Hastings responded, stating that the four district-level positions described by Roach were not new positions, but rather new job descriptions of existing positions.

“We have actually reduced positions at the district level, as well as reducing salaries by $646,000,” he said.

“We are making cuts at the administrative level as well as at the school level.”

Hastings went on to explain that part of the money that is meant to make up the $635,000 decrease is actually stabilization funding that will be available for two years, then go away “like dropping off a cliff.” He also noted that a widely held perception that federal stimulus funds will help pay for classroom teacher salaries is false.

“Those funds have a lot of strings attached; they are tied to IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and title programs,” he said.

The matter came up again when Yankeetown member Rick Turner asked for an explanation of two budget amendment items to create positions in the ESE (Exceptional Student Education) department for a Parent Services Liaison and a Transition specialist. The Parent Services Liaison is charged with organizing communication between the school and parents of children with special needs. The Transition Specialist will work to ensure that graduating students with disabilities have an chance for a role in the community by coordinating employment or continuing education or vocational opportunities for them.

District ESE Coordinator Roz Hall first noted that the positions were paid for by IDEA funds, then explained that these roles currently exist in the program, but until now they were filled by contractors.

“We now have a need to retain these people in a permanent capacity,” she said.

Staffing and employment status returned to the discussion later on, when the district's homebound teacher, Marcia Baughn, asked why two positions – Title One Clerk at the District Office and ESOL Teacher Aide at Bronson High School – were recommended as OPS (Other Personnel Services), which have a temporary status and do not include benefits, pension contributions or a Social Security match.

Concerning the Title One Clerk, Hastings explained that the clerk had been a cooperative education student who recently graduated, and the district wanted to retain her over the summer until she left for college.

Concerning the ESOL Aide, Literacy Director Linda Durrance advised that the position has an annual contract which is non-renewed at the end of each year. The contractor may be offered another contract at the beginning of the next school year if there are enough ESOL students to warrant it.

“In this case, her contract was not renewed, but we wanted to retain her over the summer to work with the students at Bronson High School.”

Baughn asked why the ESOL Aide's summer hours were not simply added to her contract, and was again advised that her contract had been allowed to expire as a matter of policy. Assistant Superintendent Jeff Edison explained that, should the role of ESOL Aide expand by necessity, the position would likewise expand, “like we did with the two ESE positions we created.”

Roach then returned to the discussion with a question about why some teachers whose contracts had not been renewed had been invited to participate in paid training workshops that commence the day after their contracts expire.

“How are they going to be paid a stipend when they are no longer school district employees?” she asked.

“Can anyone go to a workshop and receive a stipend from the district?”

Finance director Bob Clemons advised that, at one time or other, even parents of district students had been allowed to receive a stipend for attending a training workshop on behalf of the district.

Finally, Turner asked district Personnel Director Candy Dean for a clarification on the job posting's on the district's website.

“Can the annual contract employees who recently had their contracts non-renewed be considered for these positions?” he asked.

Dean replied that they could, and that several had already applied for open positions.