Whitesburg KY

County schools bracing for teacher, staff layoffs

The Letcher County School System will fill fewer art, music, library and counselor positions next school year. Other teacher layoffs are expected.

“ While it is painful and I don’t like to reduce anything we have tried to spread it around some and not eliminate anything totally,” said Supt. Anna Craft said this week during a special meeting of the Letcher County Board of Education. “If something changes, we can always add. If they give us more money we can go back and add.”

The Feb. 10 meeting was called to approve the system’s 2012-13 staffing plan, which includes three fewer librarians. Four library positions for grades kindergarten through eighth grade will be reduced to 1.3. And the library position at Letcher County Central High School will be reduced to .7. One librarian will be at the high school 3.5 days a week and at kindergarten through eighth schools 1.5 days a week. The second librarian will serve the other schools in the district.

Kenneth Cornett, director of pupil personnel, said the three library/media specialists who aren’t chosen to fill those two positions have additional certifications and will be placed in other positions.

Six counseling positions at the elementary and middle school levels will be reduced to four. Arlie Boggs, Beckham Bates, Fleming- Neon and West Whitesburg elementary schools each had a counselor who served as a counselor half the school day and taught the remainder of the day. Next year, four counselors will each serve two schools. The other two employees will be full-time teachers. Two counselors will remain at the high school.

Six music/ band positions will consist of district staff only. A beginning band class and an advanced band class will be offered at each of the elementary and middle schools. Art positions will go from four to three positions.

Craft said the art instructors will teach students some art, but will mostly serve as assistants to help with art in the regular classroom.

“They will be acting more as art consultants,” she said.

Board chairman Will Smith asked why the positions have to be reduced.

“We don’t have real concrete numbers right now, but we do know that we do have a budget shortfall we are going to have to address,” said Roger Martin, the district’s director of federal projects.

Roger said the district is working toward a $1 million budget reduction, which comes from a shortfall in state funding.

Martin said $300,000 of the shortfall could be attributed to teachers gaining another year in experience and an increase in retirement fees. That added with a loss of $600,000 in other funding and Gov. Steve Beshear’s proposed reduction in SEEK (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) totals $1 million, said Martin.

For the past two years the district has used $600,000 provided through a federal program to save the jobs of teachers and other public workers, but that money will not be available next year.

“ It was designed particularly to save jobs. It came a little bit after stimulus money,” said Martin. “That is a situation where you spend it or loose it. We paid salaries for positions with $600,000 we are not going to have next year.”

Board Member John Spicer said funding for the district could be cut more.

“What worries me about this whole thing, I am afraid, is not over,” said Spicer.

Craft said the district has applied for a grant to help fund a counselor position.

“ They are looking for things in library,” said Craft. “They are looking for things in art. Nobody on the budget committee and me especially wants to recommend doing away with any of our fine arts, of our support people who work at our schools.”

Craft said 80 percent of the district’s annual operating budget consists of teacher and classified salaries.

“When you have to cut $1 million out of the budget you can’t find it in other ways,” said Craft. “The other 20 percent is fuel, power bills, water bills, phone bills and some instructional supplies. Yes it is hard. Nobody likes it, but we have to do something. It is painful. Really we should have cut more but we thought maybe the economy would recover.”

Craft said some employees have asked about early retirement.

“I think that is wonderful that our people care enough about each other,” said Craft, who is hoping attrition will help.

Board Member Dr. Sam Quillen Jr. of Neon encouraged concerned teachers and parents to contact their legislators.

“We are at the mercy of the state legislators,” added Gary Caldwell, district finance officer. “That is how we get funding.”

Craft said the budget committee would meet again when the current session of the Kentucky General Assembly ends.

Letters on nonrenewal will soon be given to all nontenured district employees.

“I just don’t want to walk in and give non-renewals to only those that have to wait for a position to open up,” said Craft. “I just think in fairness if you go into a building with non-renewals it should go to all of them. We don’t have that many that are non-tenured in the district.”

Craft said school districts have until Sept. 15 to add more positions if they are needed.

“ We cannot be fiscally irresponsible and have the state looking down our back,” she said.

Craft said two district directors have left in the last few years and those positions were never filled.

“The directors at central office have picked up all of their duties. The night lights are on down there a lot,” said Craft.

Extra service pay for administrators has been reduced by five percent.

Regina Brown, who has served on the district budget committee for more than 15 years, told the board that she hates to see the number of counselors and librarians reduced.

“I see books just disappearing over night and we will never recover them, and reading scores going down because we don’t have li- brarians,” said Brown. “And worse, (students will be) crying because they don’t have a counselor to talk to. And so it’s not a good thing. Our staff has taken a big hit tonight. Don’t make us take anymore. I don’t think we can handle it.”

Brown said some teachers already have taken parttime jobs to make ends meet.

“I’ve got a teacher working at the BP,” she said. “Teachers are selling Avon and Thirty-One and whatever else — beads and bags — they can find and working any part-time job they can. And when they work these part-time jobs it takes time away from their teaching and if nothing else their rest.”

Although the board has not said how many teachers will lose jobs, Brown estimates it to be between 10 and 20.

“It depends on how the fallout from Frankfort is,” said Brown. “(If ) Read to Achieve (funds) don’t come that is four teachers. If Save the Children doesn’t come that is 14 classified positions. No matter how you look at it, it is more than 10.”

Brown said teachers are going to have to do more with less, adding that she can’t remember the last time textbooks were purchased.

“They look awful,” said Brown. “They look like they have been in the water in the creek, but we are teaching.”

Brown said she doesn’t like to have to talk about people joining the unemployment lines when their spouses and other family members are already being laid off from jobs in the coal and natural gas industries.

“I know for a fact some of these you are cutting tonight, their families got laid of this week too,” said Brown.

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