EAST COUNTY — The tone in the phone message is matter-of-fact. Manatee County Schools Superintendent Rick Mills wants the public to know his decision to lay off teachers next year isnot one made behind four walls, away from the pain.
For a husband of a school teacher, it’s a difficult, emotional decision of dollars and sense. But, it’s also a decision based on poor administrative decisions made in the past and based on weak results in the classroom.
In a voicemail to teachers May 15, Mills said attrition would not cover the 188 staff positions the district agreed in March to eliminate for the 2013/14 school year.
In a budget workshop May 20, Mills announced to the School Board 182 teachers will lose their jobs as part of a plan to save $20.6 million.
Those numbers include 107 basic teacher positions for a savings of $6.5 million — 41 in the district’s Rainbow program in elementary schools to save $2.5 million; $1.7 million saved by cutting 24 Exceptional Student Education teachers; and another $607,290 saved by terminating 10 English-as-a-second language teachers.
The teacher losses are part of more than 250 jobs cut overall, including 80 district office positions.
Other positions cut include aides, specialists and custodians.
“It tore up my heart notifying people they will be out of work next year,” Mills said. “I don’t want people to feel because we are removing teachers, we don’t have great teachers. But this is about addressing inefficiencies and looking at every opportunity to save money. I can’t over-emphasize the fiscal crisis we’re in.”
In March, the school district announced it would eliminate 188 staff positions for the 2013/2014 school year to address class-size related issues.It has kept class sizes smaller than required in the Florida class-size amendment by staffing elementary schools with a student-to-teacher ratio of 16-to-1 instead of the maximum 18-to-1.
Mills hoped most staff cuts would be absorbed through the district’s average yearly 200-position attrition rate, the number of staff who retire or leave the district on their own. But, after Mills and his staff spent more time researching the issue, they found more unaccounted-for positions.
Now, after he announced in April the district will have virtually no fund balance at the end of the fiscal year, Mills had to make a “difficult” and “necessary” decision.
Principals are given staffing allocations for the following each year based on enrollment. The district deadline to inform staff of contract non-renewals is May 31.
Hayley Rio, principal of Braden River Elementary School, said four of her teachers will not be reappointed next year, more than in a typical year, she said.
Pat Barber, president of the Manatee Education Association, says about 60 teachers every year do not have their contracts renewed. Barber expects a figure higher than that next year.
Teachers who have a professional service contract, meaning they cannot be fired without just cause, and were hired before July 2011 will remain on staff.
Teachers hired after that date must have their contracts renewed at the end of each year, according to law.
“There are not any good options for Mr. Mills,” Barber said. “Teachers have had several horrible years in a row here. I hope we will see changes at other levels of the system.”
Mills reorganized his leadership team in April, hiring Diana Greene and Don Hall as deputy superintendents. Their roles replaced assistant superintendent positions held by Scott Martin and Bob Gagnon. Mills hinted at more changes.
He said the district will reduce office staff by 10% next year, primarily through repurposing positions.
“I’m being candid in saying we are making reductions in the district office team,” Mills said.
Those concessions probably aren’t enough to appease teachers tired of being “the fall guys” — a term used in Facebook pages supporting Manatee County teachers — but Mills hopes his message comes through clear.
“The voice message I left was meant primarily for parents, trying to keep them informed of what’s going on,” Mills said. “I regret any employees who took it any other way. Manatee County is still ranked 47th in the state. That is not entirely the teachers’ fault. In the end, we have to make decisions that bring quality education to students.”
Contact Josh Siegel at email@example.com.
Teacher raises coming
Next year’s budget, discussed at a budget workshop May 20, includes the state giving more than $22 million to Manatee County schools, a large portion of which must be used to fund teacher raises. The district plans to spend 36.5% of the $22 million on teacher raises, a percent equal to just more than $8 million.