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Painful Cuts for Francis Howell School District Approved by Board

The School Board votes 7-0 to cut more than 95 full time equivalent positions for the 2011-12 school year.

The Francis Howell Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the proposed staffing cuts for the 2011-12 school year. 

Faced with a deficit of more than $10 million, Francis Howell administrators took action to bring spending down Thursday night. By a 7-0 vote, members voted to eliminate  more than 95 full-time equivalent teaching and staff positions. The planned cuts will save the district $7,289,377. That means the district will still be in operating in the red for the 2011-12 school year.

When the proposal was first , the board members said the cuts would made as evenly as possible across the district. The cuts don’t necessarily mean that jobs will be lost. Several vacant positions won’t be filled and other openings through retirements and other departures would be filled with current staff.

The cuts break down like this:

  • Five FTE (full-time equivalent) cuts will be made at the building administration level.
  • Alternative education will lose .625 FTE cuts.
  • One FTE cut will be made by cutting 0.5 FTE from the 6-12 Communication Arts Content Leader and another 0.5 from the 6-12 Mathematics Content Leader.
  • The three high schools will lose FTE positions. Francis Howell High School is slated to lose four. Howell North and Howell Central will each lose seven.
  • Middle school staffing will be reduced by 19 FTE positions. Barnwelll will lose 3; Bryan will lose less than one; Francis Howell Middle School will lose three; Hollenbeck eight and Saeger four.
  • Elementary schools will lose 32 FTE positions. Becky David will lose one; Castlio, three; Central Elementary, ten; Daniel Boone will cut two; Fairmount Elementary will lose one position; Harvest Ridge will lose five positions; Independence, five; John Weldon one; and Warren will cut five.
  • Non-certified staffing will be cut by 27  FTE positions. The biggest cuts will come with the Tech Para position with about six FTE positions eliminated.

The weight of the decision weighed heavily on the Board. Member Cynthia Bice said the cuts were hard to make, comparing the decision to choosing which programs to slice to a parent trying to pick a favorite child.

“We hate it,” Bice said. “It’s not a conversation we want to have.”

While talking about cutting the gifted program, which  her daughter was part of, Board Member Amy McEvoy broke down in tears.

“The staffing reductions are not just FTEs to us,” McEvoy said. “They are people who impact children everyday.”

In the end, the Board took the advice of the district’s brain trust.

“We believe is the best solution to the funding shortfalls,” Chief Human Resources Officer Dr. Steve Griggs said.

The members of the Board voted 7-0 to approve the proposal.

PUBLIC COMES OUT IN NUMBERS

Thursday’s vote came in the third hour of the often-contentious meeting.  The room in the District offices filled quickly with parents, students, teachers and community members packed the building and taking every seat. Before the meeting, seating was standing room only.

During the patron comments section, 16 people from the crowd came up to the microphone to share opinions about the budget cuts. The BOE had to vote to extend the patron comment section passed the normally allowed 30 minutes.

As was the case at the Feb. 3 meeting, cuts to the Spectra program for gifted students drew a lot of attention. Students and parents compared the program to special education programs, just at the other end of the spectrum. The argument

“This is not a club, this is not an extra curricular, this is not a badge of honor,” parent Deborah Gorzel said. “This is special ed.”

Under the plan, Spectra will lose 1.5 FTE at the high school level and one at the middle school level. The cuts were made based on enrollment figures. The three high schools only have 66 gifted students. With the cuts, the average class sizes will be between six and 10 students.

Other complaints from the public focused on the elimination of the Tech Para positions. The Tech Para are aides for teachers who help with technology and in the computer labs. 

Tom Wootten and Chet Boeke were actually in a different boat than the other speakers. The two residents argued that cuts didn’t go far enough. 

“I’m calling on you to have the courage not to deficit spend,” Wootten said.

Boeke agreed. He wanted the Board and the district to be more financially responsible.

TENSIONS RUN HIGH

The nearly four-hour long meeting was not all about the staffing cuts. Much of the time was spent discussing construction projects, talk that turned tense among members of the Board.

Proposed additions to Castlio Elementary and more work at Francis Howell North set off Board member Mark Lafata. Criticizing the spending practices of the board, Lafata said the project seemed like a want more than a need.

“It appears that some of these projects are kind of coming out of thin air,” he said. “If I were the district patrons, I wouldn’t give this district or this board another dime. We don’t deserve it.”

Lafata, who arrived 30 minutes late to the meeting and left before it was over, was against the proposal because the voters didn’t approve the plan. At one point, Lafata said he didn’t understand how the district could spend $8 million to add onto Castlio, but had to cut $7 million in staff.

Lafata’s comments drew applause from the crowd, but the comments were quickly rebuked. Bice asked Chief Financial Officer Kevin Supple if what Lafata appeared to be suggesting was allowed. Supple said the money was in two different budgets and the budgets can’t be mixed. Supple said voters approved a bond issue for school improvements and it can’t be used for anything else.

“We have operating funds and capital projects,” he said. “Capital projects that are funded with bond issue dollars, those dollars are restricted. You can’t use those to pay for salaries.”

Lafata said he never suggested mixing the budgets and that he didn’t like the patronizing way the point was made. Bice and Lafata continued chirping at each other with microphones off, forcing Board president Mike Sommer to tell them to be quiet.

After a detailed proposal about the additions to Castlio, Lafata still wouldn’t relent. He said declining enrollment at the school should make in unnecessary for more square footage.

Superintendent Dr. Pam Sloan said Castlio would help take more students from other schools.

With discussion dragging and appearing to go nowhere, Board member Steve Johnson called the vote to question—a procedure to stop discussion and get to a vote. Lafata protested being silenced, but the Board voted 6-1 to end discussion and then voted 6-1 to approve the Castlio project.

The next item on the agenda was a vote on furniture, fixtures and equipment for Francis Howell High School, Daniel Boone Elementary School and Francis Howell North High School.

Once again, Lafata opposed to the item because the public didn’t vote for it. Sloan and Supple pointed out that the ballot issue, voted on by the public, allowed for the district to spend money for other unnamed district projects.

The proposal passed 6-1 with Lafata as the only dissenting vote. 

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