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School district to cut staff in area schools

Enrollment down by 60 students from a year ago

April 15, 2010
WOLFEBORO — Word spread quickly among community members of staff cuts made within the Governor Wentworth Regional School District last week. Some rumors blamed a shortage of funding for the current Kingswood complex renovation and expansion project as the reason for the eliminated positions.

Superintendent of Schools Jack Robertson took the time to answer some questions related to the recent staff cuts in an interview with the Granite State News.

"Contrary to the rumor mill, there is no shortage of money for the new school," said Robertson. "In fact," he continued, "the money for the project and the money for staff come from two different sources."

Robertson explained that in this economy, the district has "a duty to be as frugal as possible" when preparing its budgets. While the school board is responsible for providing an adequate education for children, it also must do so while minimizing the local tax burden wherever possible.

Fewer students a factor

One important factor that is considered when creating the operating budget is the expected enrollment numbers for each of the district's schools. While it's too early to determine next year's kindergarten and preschool enrollment numbers, for now the district is anticipating the enrollment to be approximately 60 pupils less than it was a year ago.

"Enrollments and the specific number of pupils in each elementary school (for level class sizes per grade) do play a major role in staffing, as do enrollments in specific high school classes (if students are not signing up for a particular class, there is no sense hiring a teacher for it)," shared Robertson.

In preparing the budget for the 2010-11 school year that was approved by voters this past March, the budget committee began the process by first reducing all flexible expenses such as books, supplies and equipment. The committee then took into consideration employee-related expenses, a cost that makes up more than 75 percent of the district's operating budget.

"Staffing is always driven by our mission to educate children, not the goal to maintain employment for adults," said Robertson. "Simply, we are not going to carry positions when there is not a compelling student educational need for that position. Our taxpayers cannot afford to have us act so irresponsibly with their hard-earned tax dollars."

As presented in multiple public hearings before the March vote, the goal of the school board was to maintain a student - teacher ratio that was at or below the state average. Chair of the Budget Committee Jack Widmer explained to the public at the Jan. 30 Deliberative Session that this year's budget challenges were enormous. With employee, health insurance, and retirement costs on the rise the committee tightened the budget in all areas where changes could be made. No new staff positions were approved and the workforce was anticipated to be reduced by 2.1 percent (by natural attrition and elimination of some teacher and staff positions). It was also possible that multi-grade classes would be created, where feasible, as a way for the district to save.

April 15 notice deadline

Now that the budget has been approved, however, confusion and guesswork set in because state licensing requirements may not align with openings that occur within the district. After looking at the overall student numbers and specific grade/class configurations, the budget included about a 2.5 percent cut in staff, most of which, explained Robertson, is anticipated to come from natural attrition.

"We are required to provide notice to employees by April 15 of their employment status for the next school year. Therefore, we do not yet know how much natural attrition will take place. However, with the known attrition (retirements, resignations, non-renewals, one-year positions, etc.), there are currently 3.33 teaching positions that are being eliminated across the district. These are all tied to specific school, program and/or class enrollments."

The 3.33 teaching positions are down from 5.57 as a result of recent retirements/resignation letters received by the district, and are expected to affect five teachers throughout the district.

Additionally, there are currently 2.3 support staff (full time equivalent) positions that have not yet been resolved by attrition. It is also not clear yet if all one-on-one special education assistants may get a contract for the upcoming year because whether or not a pupil will need support in the future school year has not yet been determined. This happens every year, Robertson explained. Once Individual Education Program (IEP) meetings are conducted this spring and new children are identified, the district will know for certain the status of special education assistant contracts.

While the staff cuts equal only 7.87 total positions district-wide, how they will be ultimately distributed is unknown. For example, one fulltime position may mean two positions were cut in half, which means the number of people affected could be greater than the number of positions. The positions that have been affected so far have been notified, as required before April 15, and the staff identified with each have been made aware of the situation. The district, which currently employs 501 employees, is fortunate, according to Robertson, to have such minor staff reductions compared to other school districts in the state.

"Unfortunately," explained Robertson, "the flow of natural job attrition does not conform with the mandatory April 15 notification date. Hopefully, many of the limited number of layoffs we have will be eliminated. Right now, however, it is kind of like asking the mechanic the condition of the spark plugs in your car before he has opened the hood."

How many actual layoffs the district will finally have will be determined in the upcoming summer months.

Heather Terragni can be reached at 569-3126 or hterragni@salmonpress.com.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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