Haywood Schools at a crossroads

Cuts widespread as Haywood faces $2.4 million shortfall

schoolsA proposal to close Central Elementary School in Waynesville is only one piece of a sweeping and wide-reaching plan to close a $2.4 million budget shortfall being faced by Haywood County Schools next year, including the elimination of more than 30 staff and teachers.

Closing Central Elementary School would save less than half a million a year. 

“It is fair to note that even if the board decides to close Central Elementary School, that is only about 20 percent of the $2.4 million we have to come up with for our budget to be solid and operational into the future. So additional decisions need to be made,” Assistant Superintendent Bill Nolte said.

School officials unveiled a long list of suggested cuts to close the $2.4 million gap, saying they are doing everything they can to protect the quality of education.

“We have worked very, very hard to become the 15th top-ranked school district in the state and we are going to go out of our way to maintain that high academic performance,” Nolte said.

The recommendations unveiled this week include just about everything from cuts to sports, band, chorus and other extracurricular activities to cuts in supplies like postage, copies and computers. 

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School officials combed through every line of the budget, cutting anything they could get their hands on, from a reduction in cell phone reimbursements to reorganizing the bus system.

But cuts of the $2.4 million magnitude couldn’t be realized without axing positions. The list of proposed cuts includes the elimination of 22 primary teacher positions, two assistant principals, two clerical positions and more than half a dozen support teachers.

The school board voted Monday night to give preliminary approval to the list of cuts, essentially giving school administration permission to use the cuts as a baseline to begin crafting next year’s budget. 

School Board Member Rhonda Schandevel cast a symbolic vote against the $2.4 million budget adjustment, however. Schandevel said she supports the school administration and realizes their hands are tied in making the budget adjustments to reflect the financial reality. Yet she hoped her “no” vote would send a message.

“I cannot sit idly by while our traditional public schools systems are attacked,” Schandevel said. “My vote will be in clear protest of these policies.”

School Board Member Jimmy Rogers joined Schandevel in a symbolic “no” vote.

“We have to stand up to Raleigh. I don’t know how to get there but we have to challenge it,” Rogers said.

Realistically, Rogers said he knows the school system must play the hand its dealt and has to cut its budget to match the funding its given.

“But I am going to be in protest of this,” Rogers said.

Haywood County Schools are among the top performing schools in the state academically, ranking 15th in academic performance out of more than 120 school districts statewide.

Despite being “underfunded and struggling with budget reductions year after year after year …. amidst all this our school system has thrived,” School Board Member Bobby Rogers said. “It is because of teachers and administrators and staff who have overcome the obstacles that have been put in their way.”

The idea of laying off a sizeable number of staff and teachers weighed heavily on school board members.

“It is a hard decision when you are talking about people’s jobs and livelihoods and careers they have worked so hard for,” Jimmy Rogers added.

Superintendent Anne Garrett said she hopes no one has to be laid off and that the reduction in workforce can be realized through natural tur-over, attrition and retirement. The school system has the equivalent of 952 full-time employees — down from 1,079 in 2008.

Each year, about 60 employees retire, move away or otherwise leave the school system.

With only around 30 positions being cut, theoretically, no one would have to be laid off.

“But that is always a possibility if you don’t have enough money to keep everybody after retirements and resignations,” Nolte said.

The list of cuts totaling $2.4 million does not include savings realized from closing Central Elementary. Although the option is a strong likelihood, it wasn’t prudent to include in the list of cuts until the school board officially voted on to do it.

“If those savings are realized then we would be able to go back to this list of cuts and mitigate or lessen the impact of them,” Nolte said.

In other words, some of the suggested cuts on the list now could be reinstated if Central is closed.

Closing Central would net the school less than half a million dollars. Most of that is the cost of running the building — keeping the lights and heat on, the water running, and so on. The savings would also come from the elimination of so-called “redundant staff,” like custodians, secretaries and librarians that are specific to a school.

As for the teaching staff at Central, many would have to be kept on at the other elementary schools that will be absorbing Central’s population of 230 students. Teachers would need to be added at those schools to serve the increase in student body there.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 13/01/2016

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