Number of Muscogee County teachers expected to be laid off reduced to nine

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comJune 17, 2013 

Last month, Muscogee County School District officials warned as many as 40 teachers would be laid off to help balance the budget amid state cuts.

Retirements and resignations among the 2,864 professional employees the past few weeks reduced that number to around 20.

Then during Monday night's school board meeting, the district's chief human resources officer, Kathy Tessin, revealed even better news: Now the estimated number of teachers that will be laid off is nine.

Overall, the budget has 98 fewer teaching positions, so the administration is grateful natural personnel moves are accounting for the bulk of those cuts.

"We're seeing attrition coming in much more quickly," Tessin explained.

That number doesn't include about 80 custodial positions that are being cut, Tessin acknowledged, as a result of the board voting in April to outsource custodial services in the district's 21 middle and high schools.

Final numbers should be available in two weeks, Tessin said. Board member Beth Harris of District 8, however, said she was told 18 non-teacher employees will be laid off.

Reduction in force

Performance, not seniority, will be the top criterion to determine which teachers are laid off as part of the MCSD's budget cuts. The legal term for the layoff plan is called a RIF, a reduction in force.

A state law passed in 2012 prohibits school boards from using length of service as the primary or sole factor in determining who is laid off. Instead, the law says, school boards must consider the teacher's performance as the primary factor, "one measure of which may be student achievement."

The RIF policy the board unanimously approved Monday night won't target the faculty from the closed Edgewood Elementary and Marshall Middle schools and the Academic Success Center; the layoffs will come from a district-wide pool.

The layoffs will come from the following positions: elementary education, K-5; middle school English/language arts, social studies, science and math; high school English, social studies, study skills and foreign language; and secondary career and technical education. A teacher's position will be based on the job held during the majority of the 2012-13 school year.

The first criterion will be teachers who received an "ineffective" grade on their annual evaluation. The second criterion will be repeated performance concerns, as evidenced by two out of the past three years being "needs improvement" or "unsatisfactory" on an annual evaluation. The third criterion will be based on whether teachers are qualified for the needed positions. The final criterion will be seniority in district.

As part of the RIF plan, all laid-off teachers will be notified by June 28 and will be scheduled for a one-on-one meeting with a human resources staff member. The list of terminated employees will be part of the personnel report presented for approval at the board's July meeting. Laid-off teachers will be allowed to appeal the district's decision to a tribunal the board will designate.

Budget approved

After absorbing 23 furlough days the past four years, MCSD teachers will receive their full salaries and students will attend classes for the complete 180-day schedule, according to the budget the board unanimously finalized.

The general fund budget for fiscal year 2014, which starts July 1, includes no furlough days and expenditures of $270,596,469, a decrease of 3 percent, or $8.7 million, from this year's original budget.

For the 17th straight year, the school board didn't raise property taxes, keeping the millage rate at 23.37.

Overall, the district's state funding of $144,167,143 is a reduction of $21,238,578, bringing the decrease over 12 years to $141 million -- equal to about a full year of state funding for the school district.

The local tax digest is predicted to increase 2 percent through the area's economic growth and without the school board raising the millage rate. But that increase in local revenue is offset by the 4 percent loss in combined state and federal revenue. The district's health insurance spending also is expected to increase.

The budget uses $20 million of fund balance, which is projected to be $32.8 million. The remaining $12.8 million fund balance equates to enough money to operate the district for 16 days.

Dissension

Two votes that weren't unanimous comprised the same opposing board members in the 6-3 tally: Mark Cantrell of District 6, Shannon Smallman of District 7 and county-wide representative Cathy Williams.

The board approved extending interim superintendent John Phillips' contract for another year or until a new superintendent is hired. The board also approved a resolution allowing its members to attend "related meetings" of the Georgia School Boards Association, the National School Boards Association and others allowed by the board.

A copy of Phillips' new contract wasn't available Monday, but Phillips has said the terms will remain the same: $17,206 per month the first three months, then $8,431 per month the next nine months. As a retiree in the state system, Phillips is allowed to work full time for only three months in each fiscal year, then part time at 49 percent of his salary.

Susan Andrews announced her retirement from the position 15 months ago.

The opposing board members didn't explain their votes against Phillips' contract renewal, but Williams did explain why she voted against the board travel. District employees have told her their opportunities for professional development have been cut, so board members should follow suit, she said.

Williams called the disparity "the height of hypocrisy."

Board member Naomi Buckner of District 4 said resident Nathan Smith brought up a good point during the public forum, when he said the board's travel resolution doesn't denote a budget amount.

Phillips, however, said the board's travel is in the district's overall budget. Buckner later noted that the board's travel budget was about $27,000 in FY13, but members spent a total of about $17,000.

SUPERINTENDENT SEARCH UPDATE

No official announcement was made Monday night, but Muscogee County School Board chairman Rob Varner told the Ledger-Enquirer that the board will interview two undisclosed superintendent candidates Friday in the Atlanta office of law firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, where search consultant Glenn Brock is a partner.

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