05/05/11 — Schools not sure about job cuts

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Schools not sure about job cuts

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 5, 2011 1:46 PM

Wayne County Public Schools officials said Wednesday that deep cuts in state funding could force the school system to consider cutting jobs.

In what Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor termed the "absolute toughest budget year" he has faced, Taylor said efforts to preserve jobs through retirements and attrition might not be enough.

"We're going to have to make some tough decisions and while we want to protect every job, that may not be entirely possible," Taylor said during a school board work session on the 2011-12 budget. "Every person has a role to play. We work hard to try to protect the classroom, keep the teachers and assistants in place. But again, we have to play with the hand that's dealt to us."

School board member Eddie Radford said he also is concerned about the potential loss of jobs in other areas.

"I hope that we can do something in our budget that will save as many custodial positions, teacher assistant positions," he said. "It's tough to lose people like that because they're a very important part of the school day and I certainly hope we can do something to keep those positions."

The board is expected to vote on a proposed budget at their meeting Monday night. Board members said they hope to have a budget request ready to present to the county board of commissioners by May 15. The proposed budget would request the same amount of money from the county as was requested last year, $18.1 million.

Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for finance for the school system, was tasked with finding ways to trim the budget. At the outset, she made 15 percent cuts in several areas. But one budget item that several board members said they would not make cuts in was classroom supplies.

When Barwick mentioned reducing the allocation for instructional supplies by some $82,500, she was met with opposition.

Board member Arnold Flowers immediately said he would not vote for any reduction in classroom supplies

"With these budget cuts, everybody's going to have to sacrifice," board chairman Thelma Smith said.

Flowers then produced a letter he had received from a second-grade teacher, saying she had spent at least $500 of her own money this year on classroom supplies. Rationing and doing more with less had taken its toll, and she pleaded with the school board member to advocate on teachers' behalf.

"If we're going to cut money, it doesn't need to be in the classroom," he said.

"Every teacher doesn't spend $500," Mrs. Smith said. "One thing I have found out, money or things do not help a child to learn. You can do it without all those frills.

"Many of us came through school ... did not have all these frills, but you got a good education. We have become so addicted to technology and these extra frills. We have got schools in the U.S. that prove you don't have to do that."

Flowers responded by saying that over time it has become acceptable to many people for teachers to pay for supplies out of their own pockets. That is not acceptable in Wayne County, he emphasized.

Mrs. Smith maintained that technology and advancements like Prometheon boards have been wonderful, but by contrast there are perfectly good blackboards in every classroom that are not being used.

"Ever since I have been on the school board, teachers are always complaining about not having enough supplies and parents complaining their child doesn't have enough books to take home," board member John Grantham said. "It's been a constant problem."

Taylor said that no matter where cuts occur, someone will be upset.

"It won't matter how we do it, it's not going to be pretty," he said. "I think we have had pretty good success the last few years. I don't think we ever get to the point where everybody's happy."

"I'm a bottom line person and the bottom line to me is to teach kids how to read and how to do math," Flowers said, adding that he understood budget cuts but is opposed to shortchanging teachers.

Board member Eddie Radford suggested pulling funds from another area -- reducing the teacher sign-on bonus from $2,000 to $1,000 and shifting the difference to instructional supplies.

"Is it unreasonable to ask, it's obvious that this is a touchy subject for some board members, to ask that you all go back to the table and try to figure out an area where we can make some cuts?" board member Rick Pridgen said.

"I think that's certainly an area we can look at," said Taylor.

Flowers was not satisfied. He complained that he had not received the budget draft until 6 p.m. the evening before and that the packet was insufficient.

"It's very limited in information. What's there, four pages to this?" he asked. "It would have been nice to have had some type of exploded view. Maybe I'm comparing it to when we went through the budget process on the commissioner level, we got a thick book. ...

"This right here, given to us at the 11th hour to vote on Monday, I'm sorry but I'm just not going to be able to rubber stamp this. We have had plenty of time to get a lot of this information out here."

Mrs. Smith said the purpose of the work session was not to make the budget final, but to make suggestions.

"There's nothing, nothing, we can do until the state has its budget," she said. "And then we can come back and have these line items once we see the state's budget. This gives us something to look at, to think about, to wait on the state."

Flowers said he was willing to vote on asking the commission for the same level of funding, but still had an issue with not providing classroom supplies.

Mrs. Smith said Flowers could make an alternative suggestion, with Pridgen reiterating that one had been made, if the board was receptive.

"I go along with you, let's eliminate $82,500 (the proposed instructional supplies cut), take the $100,000 from the sign-on bonus and we can apply that," Mrs. Smith said.

"We're fine with that," Taylor said.

"It's going to change anyway once we get the state funding," board member Chris West said.

"Even if we give all the teachers all the money they need to buy instructional supplies, sooner or later they'll reach into their pockets to buy something," Radford said.