BEVERLY - The Fort Frye Local Board of Education cut two teachers from the staff of Salem-Liberty Elementary Tuesday, over the objections of some community members.
The board also approved a reduction in force of two high school teachers from full-time to part-time. All three votes were unanimous.
Prior to the vote on the Salem-Liberty teachers, board members praised the pair, saying they hoped to bring them back as soon as possible.
"There's things that we're working on," board member David White said. "It's going to work out, I think."
The cuts will save about $159,000, Treasurer Melcie Wells said. They were made in an effort to address the district's deficit spending, which has prompted the board to divert more than $1 million in Duke Energy tax abatement compensation payments from the permanent improvement fund to the general fund over the last year.
Even with the reductions approved Tuesday and leaving three positions vacant after teachers retired, the district is still projected to spend $495,000 more than it takes in for the 2012-13 school year, Wells said.
Changes at a glance
- Second-grade teacher from Salem-Liberty Elementary School.
- Third-grade teacher from Salem-Liberty.
- Fort Frye High School industrial arts teacher from full-time to half-time.
- High school Spanish teacher from full-time to three-10ths-time.
During the public forum at the start of the meeting, Lower Salem resident Rodney West, 39, said the board had other options it could consider before approving reductions in force, which he argued is harmful to the individuals affected and the children they would teach.
"Losing a job because you messed up is hard to take," he said. "But losing a job because somebody else messed up is even harder."
West pointed out that a first-grade teacher at Salem-Liberty was also retiring and questioned how - or if -the district would fill those vacancies.
"You take three teachers out of the same school and it kind of makes you wonder. Is your purpose to close down our school?" he said.
Interim Superintendent Dora Jean Bumgarner said the high school will have fewer students on campus next year, due to more than 70 attending the Washington County Career Center and more than 20 taking Post-Secondary Enrollment Option courses at Washington State Community College.
"All of this requires us to reduce staffing because (78.4) percent of our budget goes to staffing," she said.
Bumgarner said there are teachers at the high school who are certified to teach elementary school and they had seniority over the elementary teachers.
After an hour and 20 minutes in executive session, board members addressed some of West's concerns before proceeding with votes.
"There has never been any talk to date about closing the school (Salem-Liberty)," said board Vice President Kevin Worthington, chairman of the board's building and grounds committee.
Bumgarner said a new district plan being crafted would bring back one of the teachers whose job was lost and the other would be the first called if an elementary job opened up. She added there is usually at least one elementary resignation over the summer.
One resident asked if community members could approve the teachers assigned to fill the vacancies at Salem-Liberty. Bumgarner said they could not and that the district had to follow its contract with the teachers union. Another resident said the district would have to consider the possibility that some parents would pull their children from the school if they didn't approve of the teaching assignments.
Wells also said the board was considering other areas to cut, including not filling supplemental contracts, which include coaching and adviser positions.
After the unanimous votes approving the reductions in force, White briefly spoke to the affected teachers before the board went into a second executive session to consider an employee grievance. Lower Salem area residents seemed disappointed and frustrated with the outcome, but none wanted to speak on the record.
In other business
The board unanimously voted to rescind a resolution approved at the last meeting to reduce the board service account from $5,000 to $3,500 and require board approval for any expenditures from that fund. That was followed by a motion to reduce the account to $3,500, without the requirement of board approval. There was no discussion prior to the vote.
At March's meeting, the board unanimously approved the original resolution, saying they needed to set an example by cutting back on their spending as they were asking employees to do. White resisted the idea of seeking board approval for expenses, saying the conferences he attends are important not only to learn about state issues affecting the district but also to express opinions on the district's behalf.