School board to consider staffing changes at Monday meeting

/ 18 April 2012 / jennifer

Anne Williams, Bemidji Pioneer, April 18, 2012 –

BEMIDJI – School board member Bill Faver said nothing for nearly two hours as district administrators, the superintendent, students and other board members discussed administrators’ recommendations Monday to reduce staffing by 10 positions next year.

He listened as Horace May Elementary librarian Debra Rossman pleaded with the board to not eliminate one full-time and one part-time media specialists next year.

Eventually, Faver could hold his tongue no longer.

“It’s really frustrating to me to have handouts given to me on Monday evening in April and expect me to understand all this information and vote on it so we can deal with this in a timely manner,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re avoiding conflict or what the deal is, but the last minute pressure to push stuff is very upsetting to me.”

Coming into Monday’s meeting, board members expected to consider termination and nonrenewal of contracts, but the list of positions to be affected did not get into board members’ hands until minutes before the board meeting.

This irked Faver, who said historically the School Board used to be more transparent about recommendations from administrators.

“Certainly we’re under budget constraints where we have to make some of these decisions, but I think we need to promote better rationale ahead of time when we’re doing this planning instead of reaching in April about what’s going to happen next fall,” he said.

Staffing changes

The school board will consider whether to cut the following full-time equivalent positions for 2012-13 during a special school board meeting set for 6 p.m. Monday in Bemidji High School’s Media Center:

E Bemidji High School and Lumberjack High School: .17 English, .33 family and consumer sciences, .17 mathematics, .25 physical education and .17 Spanish instructors.

E Elementary schools: .5 physical education, .5 art, 2 fulltime computer keyboard and technology and 1.5 library media instructors.

E School district: Replace a .9 special education teacher with one full-time school psychologist.

The total estimated savings of these cuts, including salary and benefits, would be $435,734, according to Jordan Hickman, the district’s director of human resources.

The board will also consider whether to approve the hiring of the following fulltime equivalent positions for the 2012-13:

E Bemidji High school and Lumberjack High School: .25 medical careers and .33 science instructors.

E Elementary schools: .7 music.

The total estimated cost of the new hires would be $146,311, according to Hickman.

If the school board approves the recommended cuts and new hires, the district would save $289,423, according to Hickman.

The school board will also need to decide whether to renew the contracts of probationary teachers and whether to place teachers with continuing contracts on unrequested leave of absence for 2012-13.

The following teachers would be impacted by cuts: Kurt Anderson, Jill DeRouin, Josiah Hoagland, Kathryn McCannell, Katherine Meisel, Brittany Moore, Nancy Neis, Jacqeline Robertson, Stephanie Rupp, Sara Wabrowetz, Sonia Wadena and Deborah Wake.

Of these individuals, five would likely be rehired in the future, Hickman said, but at a lesser portion of their employment.

Looking for answers

Rossman said she was pleased the board decided to table the decision, saying she wanted them to make an accurately informed decision.

But she doesn’t understand the district’s plan to turn full-time elementary librarians into halftime employees next year.

Superintendent James Hess said the district has plans to change how media specialists spend their time in the future. Currently, he said, media specialists spend half their time working in the library and half their time teaching technology.

Next year, he and administrators are recommending part-time media specialists work within the elementary schools, while one full-time paraprofessional monitors the library at each school. In addition, one technology support person would divide his or her time among the six elementary schools.

This is where Rossman and other media specialists have become concerned.

“It isn’t just about books,” Rossman said. “We were taught we were going to be the technology experts in our fields, and that’s a good thing with how information is delivered these days.”

But Hickman pointed out the district’s plan to change the media specialists’ roles would save the district between $70,000 and $75,000 in base salary.

Hess urged board members to consider the importance of having a balanced budget by pointing out the board’s recent settlement with the local teachers’ union, the Bemidji Education Association, of $2.86 million.

The district is expecting to receive roughly $750,000 next school year in state aid, which is based on enrollment numbers, according to Hess.

“But that leaves us with little more than $2 million in deficit compared to where we need to be in our budget,” he said. “So, of course it’s necessary for us to look at potential reductions.”

Board member Carol Johnson said although she would not likely be able to attend Monday’s special school board meeting, she agreed tabling the issue until next week was in the board’s best interest.