Proposed School Budget Includes Layoffs, Furloughs

NEWARK – It remains to be seen if the Worcester County Board of Education’s fiscal year 2010 budget is adopted as proposed, but the spending plan currently on the table includes the elimination of as many as 29 positions along with a freeze of salaries for teachers and mandated furloughs for administration staff.

Worcester school board members on Tuesday got a look at the final draft of the proposed fiscal year 2010 budget on Tuesday, reflecting a 3-percent, across-the-board cut from last year’s allocation mandated by the County Commissioners. Board of Education members were prepared to vote on the proposed 2010 budget on Tuesday before it came to light the spending document did not comply with a state maintenance of effort law.

The commissioners late last year mandated a 3-percent cut in budget requests from all county departments including the Board of Education. As a result, school officials were required to cut about $3.6 million out of the budget to meet the mandate. After attacking the proposed spending plan line by line, school board staffers were able to cut about $2.6 million from the proposed budget, leaving about $1 million to reconcile to meet the county’s mandate.

However, further reductions were put on hold pending contract negotiations with the Worcester County Teachers’ Association and the Worcester County Education Support Personnel Association. Before introducing the proposed fiscal year 2010 budget on Tuesday, the school board ratified the new contracts with the two associations, which reflected several changes affecting personnel.

For example, the contract reflects a reduction of 29 staff members, which could possibly include some teachers. The new contract also reflects a salary freeze for teachers and support staff with no step or cost-of-living allowance (COLA) increases, longevity increases or recognition of advanced degrees earned.

In addition, the new contract includes a mandated one-day furlough for all administrative and supervisory staff along with a reduction in some contracted services. All told, the salary package reductions resulted in $988,299, which would allow the school board to reach the roughly $3.6 million in cuts mandated by the county.

The first wave of cuts totaling $2.6 million impacted almost every line item in the school board’s proposed budget including materials of instruction such as textbooks and technological items, after school programs, field trips, repairs and maintenance and nearly everything else. The roughly $1 million in cuts achieved through the new teacher and support staff contracts will affect people, a point not lost on school board members.

“We’re extremely proud of our teachers,” said Board President Bob Hulburd. “We knew they would do what they could to help us meet this mandate, even with concerns about their own families. Their willingness to make concessions in these economic times should be noted.”

Some of the 29 positions eliminated in the 2010 budget will be taken care of through attrition. Some teachers and support staff will retire while others will move on to different jobs or move to other areas. Nonetheless, it appears at least some of the eliminated positions will result in lay-offs. Others might be moved from one school to another.

“There may be possible lay-offs,” said Hulburd. “We’re trying to avoid that at all cost, but it might become inevitable.”

Superintendent Dr. Jon Andes agreed some layoffs might be inevitable after every other option is explored.

“Every line item has been cut and the only place left to cut is people,” he said. “It’s regrettable that we have to consider laying off people, but that’s what we might be forced to do.”

Andes explained each position would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis with some eliminated and others re-allocated to others schools with needs. In some cases, the positions vacated by retirement will have to be filled. For example, Showell Elementary Principal Paula Jones has announced her retirement, but the school will have to have a principal next year.

“We need to analyze each position to see whether it should be refilled or not,” said Andes. “We will have to reorganize or re-allocate positions between schools in order to keep class sizes low. There will be some people moving.”

In terms of furloughs, the budget proposed, but not adopted, on Tuesday includes a one-day furlough for all administrative and supervisory staff in the coming year. Even the one-day furloughs present challenges for the school system because of minimum requirements by the state. For example, the state requires a 180-day school year for students, and the teacher contract requires 188 days. Furloughs, while effective in reducing payroll outlays, could jeopardize those minimum requirements.

“Four furlough days equals $1 million,” said Andes. “The problem is that it creates a structural deficit. We might need six furlough days next year and eight the year after that and so on until the funding authority catches up. If we keep doing that, we run into problems with meeting the minimum number of attendance days.”

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