School Board delays action on new Reduction In Force policy

Action on a proposed Reduction In Force policy was delayed Tuesday by the Pulaski County School Board after concerns were raised over certain aspects of the new policy.

The board on Tuesday approved a budget proposal for the next school year with a $1.4 million revenue shortfall. The majority of that shortfall amount is earmarked for 3 percent pay raises and a step increase for teachers, 3 percent raises for support staff and a new salary scale for bus drivers.

All of the increases were deemed necessary by the board so Pulaski County can remain competitive with surrounding localities, and in order to receive needed state funding tied to pay increases.

The School Board is asking the Board of Supervisors to provide $1.4 million in additional local funding to cover that budget shortfall.

Given the fact there is no guarantee the Board of Supervisors will provide the increased funding, school officials are getting prepared in case a reduction in force is necessary. Part of that preparation is the establishment of a new Reduction In Force policy.

Such a reduction in force could be achieved through attrition, restructuring or layoffs.

Employees of the school system, including administrators, teachers and support staff are concerned that should a reduction in force (RIF) occur, how will school officials determine which positions will be cut?

The potential exists for between 20 and 30 positions to be eliminated.

Lezley Wilson, a Pulaski Elementary teacher and President of the Pulaski County Education Association, told the school board Tuesday that the PCEA does not support the proposed RIF policy. She provided the board with several recommended changes to the policy. A policy which she described as “representing a change from seniority to the use of multiple factors in determining who would be RIF’d.”

“The teacher shortage is real across the U.S., the state and certainly in Pulaski County,” Wilson told the board. “There is significant annual turnover of our personnel.”

Wilson said the PCEA – in addressing the group’s primary area of disagreement with the proposed policy – is recommending to the School Board that teachers and staff be placed on a prioritized list for any positions for which they hold an endorsement, and not be restricted to their active or previous positions when decisions are made both for a RIF and a recall.

Wilson said the PCEA wants teachers and staff who are cut to be recalled before any new hires are made prior to the new school year.

“I can tell you that my colleagues are extremely nervous as the prospects of a RIF action becomes more imminent,” Wilson said. “They are worried about the programs and services that may become unavailable to our students and the impact on the quality of education from larger class sizes and fewer resources that the elimination of 29 positions would invoke.”

Brittany Williams, a first grade teacher in the county, told the board she is concerned about how decisions will be made as to who will be cut if a RIF occurs, and about resources for teachers in the future.

Williams told the board she has 21 students in her classroom, with enough desks, seats and cubbies for 24. Throughout the day students share five computers – six when hers is included.

“With possible cuts, what will happen with our resources,” she asked. Should class sizes increase due to the budget situation, she wondered if  a teacher’s resources would be increased or stay the same?

Williams also noted another concern is the funds teachers are given at the first of the year to purchase items to help with the instruction of children in the classroom.

“Will that money increase as our class sizes rise,” she asked.

“It’s no surprise to anyone in here that we (teachers) use those funds at the first of the year, then use our paychecks the rest of the year.”

Williams said she has taught in the county for six years, and she is just now able to afford to live without having a roommate with whom to share living expenses.

“What’s going to happen to those teachers who are already struggling so they’re not pulling more and more finances out of their own pockets?”

School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers noted concerns over the new RIF policy would be taken under consideration and the policy be brought back up at the board’s April meeting.