By Michael Stewart
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
When Escambia schools open next year, there will be 115 fewer teachers and 40 fewer elementary school administrative clerks.
Ten of the teaching positions will be cut from music, art and physical education, while students enrolled in exceptional student education classes will get by with 16 fewer teachers.
Other positions to be eliminated include an assistant principal, two deans and five counselors.
In a 4-1 vote Tuesday night at the J.E. Hall Center, Escambia School Board members approved Superintendent Jim Paul´s plan to trim $6.2 million from the district´s budget.
Current employees will not lose their jobs. The School District hires about 300 teachers each year, and those in positions to be cut will be reassigned to other posts.
With state budget cuts and rising diesel fuel and food costs, the School District is expecting a shortfall of more than $15 million next school year.
Linda Holt, an administrative clerk at West Pensacola Elementary School, said the loss of the administrative positions at the elementary level will greatly impact those schools.
She said her clerk duties include giving medications to students, helping run the clinic, acting as a teaching assistant, and filling in on lunch duty. That doesn´t include her administrative duties.
“Can the schools do without us?” she asked. “Well, yeah. But somebody else is going to have to pick up that ball, and it´s a lot.”
School Board member Claudia Brown-Curry cast the dissenting vote on Paul´s $6.2 million cost-reduction plan.
She said she believes Paul´s plan should have included more administrative cuts and fewer classroom cuts.
“I still feel we have not addressed cuts at the top level - the fat if you will,” she said.
School Board member Gerald Boone said the perception that the administration is top-heavy is false.
“All my years as a teacher, there was a perception there is money downtown,” he said. “Everybody says ´Why don´t you do this or why don´t you do that?´ It´s easy to say.”
The largest single savings from the $6.2 million in cuts approved will come from having high school teachers pick up an additional class. Instead of teaching five out of seven periods, they will teach six out of seven classes.
Some 70 fewer high school teachers will be needed next year by having teachers pick up an additional class. The estimated savings is $3.2 million, the largest single savings in Paul´s plan.
The Escambia Education Association has argued, however, that changes in teachers´ schedules have to be negotiated and it will likely contest the decision.
Another proposal by Paul to cut nearly $1.7 million from non-teaching positions failed in a 4-1 vote, with board Chairwoman Patty Hightower casting the sole supporting vote.
While Paul recommended cutting 35 to 40 district- level, non-teaching positions, there was no proposal to cut any top administrative positions.
“At some point in time we have to recognize it is the role of the superintendent to run the district,” Hightower said.
She did want to know, however, if the School Board had the authority to eliminate administrative positions not recommended by Paul. School Board Attorney Donna Waters said she felt they did but not all attorneys shared her opinion.
Paul said if the School Board took it upon themselves to eliminate positions not included in his recommendations, he would challenge the board.
“We don´t want to involve ourselves in a constitutional crisis,” he said.
More budget cuts are expected later and if Paul does not call a meeting sooner, the issue will be discussed again at a May 20 board meeting.
News Journal staff writer Jamie Page contributed to this report.