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Jefferson County School Board expected to decide whether to trim 46 positions

January 14, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — The potential for some teachers and service personnel in Jefferson County Schools to be laid off this year is greater than in years past, due at least in part to stagnant student enrollment and declining revenue, school board president Pete Dougherty said this week.

The county school district recently notified 66 of its least-tenured employees, including 45 teachers, that their current employment contracts are on the chopping block.

The notification letter they received from Jefferson County Superintendent Susan Wall indicates she is recommending the school board terminate the employee's contracts by the end of this school year.

Wall said the letters were hand-delivered and the employees who received them were advised of their rights to a hearing regarding the notification and opportunity to be rehired if ultimately terminated.

While Dougherty said the standardized letter required by state law "scares the devil out of people," he indicated that many of the employees who received the notice might very well remain employed with the school system for the next academic year, but they might not have the same position they currently hold.

By the end of the month, the school board is expected to decide whether it will trim 33 teaching positions and 12 full-time and one part-time service personnel positions, according to Wall. Because some of the affected employees have the same amount of tenure, all were notified of a possible contract termination, Wall said. Policies are in place to break ties in seniority, according to Wall.

The staffing reductions under consideration are due to a decrease in property tax and other revenue sources totaling about $5.3 million in the last four years and stagnation of enrollment growth, according to Wall.

As of October 2011, the school district had an enrollment of 8,842 students, three fewer than the year before, according to figures compiled by the state Department of Education. The decline came a year after the school district reported a gain of 250 students over 2009.

Given the revenue squeeze and real possibility of layoffs, officials are considering a proposal to entice at least 80 retirement-eligible employees to retire this year by offering them $1,000.

Any retirements, combined with the departure of employees for other reasons, would create job openings and likely allow the school district to "rescind" terminations and rehire the affected teachers and staff for the next school year, according to Wall.

While personnel changes are being made for the next school year, the teachers and service personnel affected by the cuts are placed on a Reduction In Force (RIF) list, which must be finalized by Feb. 1, according to Wall.   

A monetary incentive is being floated to encourage those who are retirement-eligible to make their decisions earlier so the school district can more quickly address the staffing issue, according to Wall.

Wall said most RIF-related personnel issues are resolved by the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30, but some might not be resolved until the beginning of the next school year in August.

In Berkeley County, Superintendent Manny P. Arvon II said more than 20 service personnel workers have been placed on its RIF list each of the last two years. But like last year, he expects the affected employees to be rehired again this year. Only a few of the 21 employees who were notified this year were "newbies" and had not been through the RIF process, Arvon said.

"It's always our goal ... that we go right back to those people and do they best we can do to get them all back and as quickly as possible," Arvon said.

While Berkeley County, like Jefferson County, also has seen declines in revenue from property taxes, the school district's student enrollment, which stood at 18,002 in October, has continued to grow and no teachers have been placed on a RIF list, according to Arvon.

The school district reported enrollment increases of more than 280 students in the last two years.

While the RIF list provides school districts flexibility to move staff from one school to another in response to enrollment changes and special needs, the state requires the list to be compiled entirely too early, according to Arvon and Wall.

Both Arvon and Wall said the RIF list would be much smaller if the state allowed it to be finalized after the school year ends, instead of Feb. 1. Given the deadline, Wall and Arvon said school administrators are forced to try to project what their staffing needs will be in each school in December, which they said is very difficult.

"It's insane," Arvon said of the early deadline. "If this was June 1, we probably wouldn't have a RIF list ... the RIF list would be minimal; instead of 21, it might be five (people)."

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