ROACHDALE -- Concerned parents, teachers, staff and administrators packed the auditorium at North Putnam High School Wednesday night to hear what school board members had to say about reduction in force issues.
After first swearing in new board member Mark Hoke who is replacing Mark Fordice on the school board, Superintendent Dr. Mary Lovejoy got down to business, addressing concerns with a reduction in force (RIF), the financial status of the corporation, enrollment projections and teacher/student class ratio with reductions.
"No decisions have been made," announced board president Debbie Sillery.
Lovejoy told the group that if RIF's occurred there would be no mailed letters. They would be hand-delivered in meetings with administrators present. Reductions of certified personnel would also be done according to the contract between the school and the teachers.
"RIF's would not prevent us from providing a strong educational force," Lovejoy assured the group.
The superintendent went on to say that any reductions would be done according to seniority.
"If a teacher is laid off and is certified to teach in another area, they will be transferred to that area and can bump a teacher with less seniority," explained Lovejoy.
Certified staff reduction could affect seven positions in special areas such as music and art. There could be seven in general education and three in special education.
Lovejoy explained that there were some issues with Old National Trail over teachers working for them but under North Putnam contracts.
"We don't know what the outcome of that is, but it could have an impact," she said.
Regarding the financial status of the corporation, Lovejoy explained that a great deal of money was borrowed within the last year.
"In January '09 the board was asked to approve $6.7 million in loans. $4.7 million was paid back, but another $3 million was borrowed in June and $1 million in July. We currently owe $2.5 million," said Lovejoy.
She went on to explain that the corporation's general fund had $900,000, but the transportation fund was $127,000 in debt.
"We lost $500,000 from the enrollment being down. If we do nothing, we will end the year at $2.5 to $3 million in debt," she said.
The enrollment project for the upcoming year is also a consideration. Assistant to the Superintendent Kevin Emsweller explained that over the last five years, the school has been losing enrollment to the tune of 1,703 students.
This is tied into the teacher/student ratio and the effect a reduction will have. Some of the breakouts he showed the group included fewer class sections and slightly larger classes in some grades.
"We don't want any classes with more than 30 students," he said. Roachdale Elementary would keep the number of students the same in most cases, but Bainbridge, which has lost more students, would see some classes grow from 18 to 22 students in second grade, plus the addition of three to six students in higher grades.
Emsweller said the board was also looking at the class size discrepancy between the two elementary schools and talked about transferring some students from Bainbridge to Roachdale.
Lovejoy addressed possible changes to athletics that would include the high school athletic director taking care of the both the high school and middle school, reducing the number of assistant coaches in all sports, closing the swimming pool except for two months out of the year and reducing extra curricular staff.
They are also looking at reducing hours for instructional assistants, custodians and nurses by 30 minutes a day (15 minutes at the beginning and end of the day).
"Total cuts would equal $1.8 million, and that is in line with the $2.2 million debt," said Lovejoy.
Board member Carl Blau brought up some other opportunities for cuts after reviewing teacher contracts. These concerned health benefits and life insurance for retirees.
"We give them $50,000 in life insurance. No company I know provides that anymore," he said.
He also talked about reducing the four personal leave days from four to two. Teachers also get five days for bereavement. Blau thought that was excessive also.
"If I were a teacher I would be very upset, but we can't operate like we use to operate," he said.
Board member Andy Beck suggested putting a freeze on incremental pay and looking at rotations for things like buses and computers.
"We need to get by with what we've got," he said.
Several members of the audience took the podium when the opportunity was presented. Two teachers talked about their programs (tech ed and agriculture) and how these programs were or could bring in funds to the corporation.
"There are a few simple things that we can do to bring money into our school corporation just by changing class titles and descriptions," said tech ed teacher David Basan.
Agriculture teacher Kate Skirin talked about the amounts of money the school was paid per student taking certain ag classes. These varied from $375 to $450. She calculated that ag classes brought in $61,664. Servant also reported that she had just received a Future Farmer's of America (FFA) grant for $8,000 for work in the outdoor lab and renewable for three years.
Several parents expressed concern over reducing teachers, eliminating music, arts or sports programs and changing class sizes.
A major complaint was the lack of communication about what is going on in the school system.
"We're not kept in the loop. If it were not for the rumor mill, most parents wouldn't have known about this meeting," said Rachel Manville. "If we're not informed correctly to begin with, we have to guess what is going on."
Manville got applause following another comment.
"Teachers don't make a lot of money to begin with. Some of those benefits are very important to them," she said. "There is a big difference between teachers working 184 days and being paid for 184 days."
Lovejoy addressed the issue of communication saying there would be another meeting for those parents who were not able to attend or did not know about the meeting Wednesday.
"This meeting was really intended for teachers and staff and to get information to them, but we will have another meeting for those who didn't know or couldn't attend tonight," said Lovejoy.
She also reminded people the board was gathering information not making decisions yet.
Sillery also mentioned that school board meetings are held on the third Thursday of every month at 7 p.m.