MOUNT VERNON — Making reductions in the work force, or RIFing, is one option schools have to trim their budgets, and most in the area, including Centerburg and Fredericktown, have done so in the past couple of years.
East Knox and North Fork have each eliminated at least 30 staff positions. Mount Vernon City Schools dropped more than 13 this school year alone and have announced more staff reductions for the 2011-12 school year.
Those reductions include: 14 high school, middle school and elementary teachers with five of those being through resignations or retirements, three administrators and 25 full and part-time support staff. Technology leaders and student council advisor positions will also be eliminated, for a total savings of $1.5 million.
When possible, school districts first try to reduce personnel expenditures through attrition, which means they do not replace someone who has resigned or retired. They next explore whether it would be desirable to cut the number of hours someone, for example a cook or custodian, works and still maintain vital services. Districts also try to make cuts across the district and across all job classifications.
“All staff cuts mean some restructuring,” said East Knox Superintendent Matt Caputo, “and we do look at non-instructional areas first.”
Mount Vernon also scrutinizes non-instructional staff first. Superintendent Steve Short said, “Whatever we do impacts service to the students. If we reduce the number of custodians, for instance, what do we have? We still have to keep things clean, whether or not it means we stop having certain activities take place in school [buildings] after school. And then you start taking away activities for our students.”
“We look at our buildings as taxpayer purchases. We would love our taxpayers to be able to use our facilities, and we allow that. We may get to the point where we have to close the building at a certain time to maintain the work force. Then our students lose out. For example, the YMCA doesn’t have enough places for kids to practice basketball. We’ve provided that. Now we shut out kids, shut out services, shut out those types of things. It’s part of staff reductions. It’s not what you want to do, but our number one job is educating students. That’s job No. 1.”
When it comes to teaching staff, specific job classification, enrollment figures and certification or license come into play. Because the districts must maintain the core classes required by the state — reading, math, language arts, science and social studies — instructors teaching “extras” such as art and music, and afterschool activities, such as student clubs and often athletics, are frequently the first to go.
When a staff reduction is necessary, it is made on the basis of seniority within a certain area. Those individuals employed under a continuing contract are considered to have greater seniority than those under a limited contract, and probationary employees are laid off first. If qualified, the person who was laid off can “bump” a teacher with less seniority in another area. For example, a laid off music teacher could theoretically “bump” a math teacher with less seniority if the music teacher was also certified to teach math.
An individual whose employment was suspended due to staff reduction generally has recall rights for two years following the date of the layoff, and will be the first to be hired for any new or reopened position for which he or she is qualified. North Fork is one school district which has recalled some RIFed employees.
Staff reductions can happen any time in the school year, and districts try to notify affected employees at least 10 days before the date of the layoff, and before the school board approves the cuts.
Laid-off school employees are eligible for unemployment benefits; the school districts pay one-half of their salary, but no benefits. That means the districts’ bottom line is reduced by 50 percent of that individual’s pay, all of the cost of health insurance and other benefits. The length of time the districts pay unemployment is dependent on law. The treasurers at East Knox and North Fork both said they had thought they had fulfilled their obligations to employees suspended over a year ago, but then the U.S. Congress extended benefits and the school districts had to resume unemployment payments to certain individuals.