110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
Teacher union says School Board's math is wrong
posted May 28, 2008 - 5:49:13pm
Just a few years ago, Volusia County Schools couldn’t get enough teachers to fill vacant positions, even with job fairs and recruitment trips.
Now, some teachers hired in recent years may be saying goodbye to their jobs, as will other members of the school-district staff.
“This is an unprecedented shift,” DeLand-area School Board Member Candace Lankford told The Beacon.
The school district is looking at cutting 384 of the district’s 4,900 instructional positions, plus 83 paraprofessional and school-staff members, and another 192.6 positions at the district level.
That adds up to a total of 659 positions, full-time or part-time, cut from the district’s employee roster of about 8,800 employees.
Watch a video of the protest against the cuts.
The cuts will save $29 million in employee pay and benefits, according to district figures. Put together with some cuts to instructional services and athletics, the district is looking at total savings of $31.72 million.
Even with all these cuts, Volusia County Schools expects to still have a budget shortfall of about $4.2 million.
“The district staff is taking a 10-percent cut in personnel and a 2-percent salary cut at Level 9 and above. No one else has been asked to take a pay cut,” Lankford said May 28, the day after the third in a series of budget workshops. “We are not just targeting teachers. This is across the board.”
The cuts apply to a variety of workers in administration, and includes top-level officers.
As the School Board members met May 27 inside Volusia County Schools’ administrative headquarters on North Clara Avenue in DeLand, about 250 teachers and other school workers protested outside.
Carrying signs and speaking with the news media, they argued the School Board has cut too deep in eliminating workers, and has underestimated the money that will be saved by teacher retirements.
Inside at the workshop, Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Peromnia Grant was complimented by one School Board member for her gentleness in outlining the school district’s problem.
She told School Board members, “Except for Madison County, at 3.9 percent, we took the hardest hit in the state.”
That hit came from the Florida Legislature, Lankford explained. Volusia Schools took a 3.91-percent cut in its state funding.
That’s one of the three key factors precipitating the budget crisis, Lankford said.
The other two are the District Cost Differential and the “unprecedented” drop in student enrollment.
The District Cost Differential means the state pays Volusia County 96 cents on the tax dollar in funding. The state’s theory is Volusia County, with its beaches and other amenities, is a magnet for teachers and other workers; therefore, staff should be willing to accept smaller paychecks than teachers in less desirable areas.
Lankford has been a long and vocal opponent of the cost differential, arguing beaches bring no reduction in living expenses such as groceries and rent.
The decline in student enrollment is the third factor in the budget crisis, Lankford said.
Superintendent Margaret Smith told School Board members Volusia County has had the fourth-largest enrollment decline among Florida’s 67 counties.
The state pays school districts based on the number of students enrolled, and Volusia County’s enrollment dropped by 1,100 in the past school year.
“We still have to meet the mandates of the classroom-size-reduction amendment,” Lankford said.
That’s the reason high schools went from a block period, with four 1.5-hour periods a day, to a seven-period day. That allows for smaller classes with fewer teachers, she said.
The class-size amendment requires schools to trim overly large classes, giving districts a number of years to reach the goals. Requirements vary by school grade.
All of this means, even with previous budget cuts and the decision to close smaller schools such as Boston Avenue Elementary and Starke Elementary in DeLand, the budget must be cut more, if painfully, Lankford said.
Unions see it differently
Along with 250 or so teachers and support-staff members, union leaders stood outside the administrative building in DeLand to protest.
They included Volusia Teachers Organization President Andrew Spar, Volusia Education Support Association President Bobbie Reedy, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 850 President Tom Wenz, and Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall.
The union leaders didn’t like the school district’s math.
Spar pointed out, at an April 22 workshop, the district announced cuts of 312.5 full-time positions, including 271.5 instructional positions at a cost savings of just over $11 million. Spar calculated the savings would actually be $13 million.
Also, he said, the district’s calculations used the lowest teacher pay, while 70 teachers have already announced their retirement. These teachers are at the highest points on the salary scale. This adds several million more to the savings.
Spar anticipates around 350 teachers will leave the district due to retirement, resignation or performance. That’s 150 more than the 200 estimated by the district. He based his figures on averages from the past five years, Spar said.
“Based on how the district is handling these cuts, it is likely that many employees will be sent home at the end of the year without a job, but the district will end up hiring teachers as we approach next year,” Spar said.
Wenz said the district laid off 50 bus operators May 9. “They’ve already asked them if they would return as substitutes,” he added.
Spar said the school district is making cuts “deeper than they need to. They’re using inaccurate figures, to our mind.”
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