Francis Howell BOE Debates Staff Cuts
Facing a $10.3 million deficit, the Francis Howell School District is seeking to cut staff to save money.
The Francis Howell School District might cut 70 full time equivalent certified staff positions and 27 non-certified staff positions across the district next year in an effort to reduce its budget at a time when state aid to districts is declining.
The proposed staff cuts would reduce the deficit in the 2011-12 budget from $10.3 million to $3 million.
Declining state and federal funding coupled with lower tax revenues has put the Francis Howell School District mean the cuts are necessary.
During the Feb. 4 Board of Education meeting, the proposed cuts were presented to the Board and to the packed board room.
Eighty-five percent of the district's expenses are related to staff expenses, Chief Human Resources Officer Steve Griggs said.
“The reductions will have an impact,” he said.
Francis Howell plans to cut $7,289,377 from the budget for next year. The cuts include:
▪ $1,504,627 in cuts to the general budget
▪ $100,000 in cuts to the capital budget
▪ $448,610 in cuts to support staff
▪ $5,236,140 in cuts to certified staff, which includes classroom teachers and administrators
The proposed cuts are focused on retaining teachers so the schools could maintain class sizes at or below acceptable standards. The district is planning to try to absorb the staff cuts through attrition, by not filling positions as people retire or move to a new district.
If a given position is eliminated, that teacher, nurse or staff member will be given a different position within the district.
"Maybe they were teaching at Independence Elementary and they were teaching third grade," said District Spokeswoman Jennifer Henry. The teacher might move to a different elementary school where he or she would have to teach a different grade, she said.
The district plans to provide contracts to employees by April 15 and let them know if they will not be renewed for next year. But under state law, a district can lay off teachers if there’s a financial need after that date.
District Chief Financial Officer Kevin Riggs said at this point the plan is to make the staffing changes through attrition, but it may be too early to tell if that alone will solve the problem.
Those teachers whose jobs may be affected have already been notified.
The proposal broke down the cuts in terms of full time equivalent staff positions.
The reductions to certified staff positions are as follows:
▪ District Academic/Alternative—3 FTE, an 11 percent reduction
▪ Building Administration—5 FTE, a seven percent reduction
▪ High School Teachers—17.50 FTE, a five percent reduction
▪ Middle School Teachers—19.52 FTE, a seven percent reduction
▪ Elementary School Teachers—32.00 FTE, a five percent reduction
“We calculated ratios to make it as even as possible,” Griggs said.
The plan also includes cutting positions in other areas including writing labs teachers and support staff.
The proposed cut of one staff member for the middle school Spectra program, a program for gifted students, drew several complaints during the public comments portion of the meeting. Several members of the faculty voiced concern about the cuts.
The general consensus was, that if the board wants to provide the best resources for students, it shouldn’t cut the gifted programs. One speaker referenced President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address, during which he talked about the need to create better students who help us achieve in the future.
After hearing the public comments and the proposed cuts, the board began to discuss the plan. Board member Mark Lafata wondered if more cuts could be made at the administrative level to keep more teachers on staff.
“I would rather have teachers in the classroom that administrators waiting for kids to come to the office,” he said.
Lafata’s biggest concern was the five elementary schools that have two assistant principals. He proposed eliminating the second assistant and replacing them with an administrative intern. Griggs said this move could save $150,000.
Superintendent Pam Sloan said Francis Howell already had one of the lowest administrator-to-student in the state and that the job of an administrator has changed. She said they no longer just wait for students to get into trouble.
Lafata also suggested the district eliminate deans. The proposal calls for a reduction of deans from six to three, but Lafata suggested dumping the whole concept.
“For 25 years we were able to do it without deans,” he said. "If you’re going to cut a program, cut it completely.”
Sloan and board members said the role of administrators is very important and the district should be careful making cuts.
Lafata said the district needed to look into the future. With enrollment declining, he encouraged a proactive response and not a reactive response.
“We don’t want to be like St. Charles (School District),” he said. "With the decreasing enrollment, need to start planning. We don’t want empty buildings. “
Board member Steve Johnson echoed these sentiments.
“Our finances aren’t getting any better," he said. "If you think this year is tough, next year is going to be tougher.”
Near the end of the nearly three-and-a-half hour meeting, Lafata offered his feelings on the concept of deficit spending.
“When you decide to deficit spend, you’re just putting a band-aid on the problem,” he said. “It’s a bad practice. … At the end of the day, I don’t feel comfortable with deficit spending. How do we keep from spending backwards, because backwards doesn’t stop?”
No decisions were made at the meeting last night. The board requested, and will receive, more information before the Feb. 17, 2011 meeting.
Kalen Ponche contributed to this article.