Eagle County’s school district to cut teachers | VailDaily.com

Eagle County’s school district to cut teachers

EAGLE COUNTY – School budget projections are like gazing into a crystal ball smeared with fingerprints and nose grease smudges all over it – it’s hard to get a clear view of the future.

Still, the local school board knows two things about job cuts as part of next year’s budget:

1. The amount of money they’ll get from the state depends on the number of students enrolled.

2. The number of teachers depends on all of the above.

They won’t have an accurate student count for next school year until students show up next fall, board members said during Wednesday morning’s budget work session.

This year, not quite as many students showed up as the school district anticipated, so they have too many teachers, said Dr. Sandra Smyser, superintendent.

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“We were slightly overstaffed in lots of places. It proved difficult, as it always does, to correct that after school starts,” Smyser said.

The state’s share of school funding is doled out on a per-pupil basis and that’s being cut by $503.84, to $6,595 per pupil, as the state tries to deal with its own $1 billion shortfall.

Schools across the state hire staff based on the number of students they have and, again, it’s a number that won’t be clear until next fall.

“We have to be conservative,” said school board member Connie Kincaid-Strahan.

The Eagle County school district employs 900 people – 520 teachers and 380 employees, said Brian Childress, the district’s human resources director.

To help bridge a $6.5 million funding gap, Eagle County’s schools will cut 40 jobs. Of those, 30 will be teachers.

Those 30 jobs cuts would be a 5 percent reduction from the district’s 520 teachers. Of those, about two-thirds would have to be cut anyway because there are too few students for the number of teachers the district employs, Childress said. The other third will be lost to layoffs for financial reasons, Childress said.

The other 10 jobs will come from the school district’s administrative staff, about an 18 percent cut.

“It all depends on how those student numbers come in,” Childress said. “During a normal budget year, we’d have to do this because of fewer kids,” Childress said.

Principals will probably make most of those staffing decisions, the board decided. If principals make a mistake and have too many teachers, or too few, they should have to deal with it, said Mark Strakbein, Eagle Valley High School principal.

“The way we went about these cuts was to stay as far away from the classroom as possible,” said Phil Onofrio, the school district’s chief financial officer. “It has been impressive on how hard the leadership has worked to protect kids and teachers.”

Most years, 40 percent of the teachers are in their first three years of their careers, Smyser said. The school district will turn over about 70 teachers a year because of career changes, relationships and all sorts of other reasons that touch the lives of young professionals in their early 20s.

The teacher cuts will likely come from not replacing some of those positions, Childress said

“We’re not doing this to punish, we’re doing it because we have to. We don’t want to be in a position of spending a million dollars on teachers we don’t need to spend a million dollars on,” said Brian Nolan, school board member. “We’ve come up with $6.5 million in savings without going to a bond issue.”

But that doesn’t mean they won’t. The board may still ask voters for a tax increase.

Louise Funk, who spearheaded the last bond election the district won, will talk it over with the school board during next week’s meeting.

Property values across Eagle County have fallen by up to 30 percent. The school district’s property tax revenue will also fall, but not by that much, Onofrio said.

“This year we’re doing more with less. Next year we’ll be doing less with less and the public simply needs to understand that,” Smyser said. “They don’t want teachers cut, support staff cut or bus stops cut, they don’t want us to cut anything. But they don’t want higher taxes.”

This year won’t be the last time the school board has this discussion.

“We’re two years into this problem,” Onofrio said. “The state tells us that we’re probably five years away from returning to the funding levels of five years ago.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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