07/18/13 — Funding cutback forces teacher shuffle

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Funding cutback forces teacher shuffle

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 18, 2013 1:46 PM

When Wayne County Public Schools received its state and federal budget allotments for 2013-14 in May, the Exceptional Children's program was cut by more than $1 million, translating to the removal of 22 EC teachers to balance the budgets.

Dr. Craig McFadden, assistant superintendent for accountability/student services, was "almost certain" the district was facing a layoff situation.

"We knew there were 22 EC teachers we couldn't afford to keep on staff," he said.

The district has long touted its ability to avoid massive personnel cuts like those implemented in other school systems. Dr. Steven Taylor, schools superintendent, has relied upon retirements and attrition to prevent loss of teacher jobs.

"As vacancies have come open, they have just not filled them," explained Ken Derksen, director of communication services. "Cuts have been taking place in education budgetwise for several years and the district has worked very hard (not to cut personnel) so no pink slips have been given.

"In this situation, the EC children's program has fared well throughout all the cuts, but unfortunately, the cuts are hitting here now."

The federal sequestration and other funding sources that were previously used are no longer available, McFadden said.

He said the simplest solution would have been to release the 22 most recently hired teachers, in accordance with the Board of Education's Reduction in Force policy.

"But instead, talking with the superintendent, we made an effort to see how many of these EC teachers had certifications in other areas and how many could we place in other positions that would be coming open in the coming year in regular education," McFadden said.

It definitely presented a challenge, he admitted, further complicated by the fact that the director of the EC program, Jane Walston, retired in February and officials were waiting until the end of the school year to fill the position.

"EC is under my jurisdiction as an assistant superintendent," he explained. Michelle Hamm was named director earlier this month.

McFadden said in the weeks since the EC cuts were announced, a "programmatically sound program" has been rebuilt within the student/teacher ratio regulations required by the government and the constraints of the budget.

"We have not cut personnel," he said Wednesday. "That was a chore. (But) that was one of Dr. Taylor's major concerns when we first heard -- to place as many teachers as we could."

Instead, he said, 22 EC teachers have been moved and the EC programs re-staffed.

"We looked at the numbers of EC teachers needed at each school and put down the number of teachers we needed at each school and the student/teacher ratio regulations required by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and the U.S. Department of Education," McFadden said. "We were able to place 22 EC teachers who had certifications in regular education, it might be high school English or elementary education, and we were able to place them in positions that were vacated through retirements or attrition.

"I was extremely pleased that we were able to do that. I thought sure we would be sending at least some teachers home, and we really didn't want to do that."

With the unique population this affects -- exceptional children, formerly "special education," caters to students who benefit from consistency as well as a relationship with the teacher assigned to them -- there is bound to be some fallout from the personnel changes.

"We understand the students and parents (will have) concerns," Derksen said. "That's what made the decision that much more difficult."

"We wouldn't have done this is we didn't have to, that's for sure," McFadden said.

He added that the changes made were "minimal," based upon positions needed at each school.

"Every EC student will have a fully certified EC teacher in a class that is within state and federal required teacher/student ratios," he said. "NC DPI and the U.S. Department of Education sets those ratios based on the type of class it is.

"The process we used was we had a roster of all 158 EC teachers. And with that roster we had how long they have been working in Wayne County Public Schools and all the certifications that each teacher held. Of course, they all had EC certifications, but many had certifications in other areas as well as regular EC. We matched that list against positions that were becoming available (retirees or vacated positions)."

The bottom line, McFadden said, is the personnel changes were dictated by funding, or lack thereof.

"We have been fortunate in the past to have additional funding that now doesn't exist," he said. "We have had some very small EC classes that we simply don't have the luxury of having.

"We had that $8.5 million reduction in federal funds because of sequestration. If the Congress doesn't do anything, we'll have another $8.5 million (cut) next year."

The important thing to realize, McFadden said, is the shifts being made are not arbitrary, nor are they set in stone.

"It's still being reviewed," he said. "If it can be worked out, then those changes will be made, but if it can't, they won't."

Principals were just notified of the changes last Thursday, McFadden said, and were charged with personally contacting the affected teachers. Letters will also be sent out to each of the 22 EC teachers.

"The schools will be contacting parents about the changes if their child was impacted, before school starts," he said.