Reduction in Force

Published 10:09 am Thursday, June 7, 2012

WINDSOR – Sparks flew here Tuesday night as the Bertie County Board of Education discussed a possible reduction in force.

Board members Alton Parker and Pamela Chamblee initially opposed the idea of adopting a Reduction in Force (RIF) plan proposed by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Debbie Harris-Rollins.

Following a lengthy discussion, the two joined their fellow board members – Chairperson Gloria Lee, Vice Chair Emma Johnson and Rickey Freeman – in unanimously approving a modified plan.

Harris-Rollins began the discussion by talking about the decreased funding for the school district and said the RIF would help alleviate approximately $1.2 million in funding cuts.

She said the plan was necessary and would currently involve the reduction of about 12 certified positions.

That didn’t set well with two board members.

“Have we looking at cutting out everyone’s supplement in the district,” Chamblee asked. “I cannot see costs and talking about sending people home. We’re talking about some people having supplements while others have no job.”

Chamblee specifically mentioned principal supplements, but Harris-Rollins said principals were receiving salary differentials, not supplements.

“It has obviously been the policy that when someone changed jobs, they did not have their salary reduced,” the superintendent said.

The superintendent gave an example of a principal moving from a larger school to a smaller one, which would cause the salary to be less. She said in those instances the county has been continuing to pay at the higher salary.

Parker then weighed in on the issue.

“I am not in favor of this RIF because we don’t know the finances yet,” he said.

He said that the state budget hasn’t been passed yet and therefore the district didn’t know exactly what the shortfall would be. He added that he was not in favor of cutting jobs for teachers.

“I’m tired of sending home people in the trenches,” Parker said. “Maybe we need to send people home from central office rather than teachers. I will vote against this because I’m not ready.”

Harris-Rollins said she understood that the state had not released final figures, but that $650,000 in EduJobs money was not going to be received by the district. She said figures indicated that would cost the system 22 jobs even if there were no reversion to the state.

“I agree with that,” Chamblee said. “I cannot sit in this seat and pretend I don’t know about supplements. If we can keep people working instead of paying someone so they can get two or three weeks at their beach house, we need to do that.”

Harris-Rollins said the current request did not have positions attached to it and that she nor the board were allowed to discuss people who whose jobs would be impacted because the policy prohibited it.

School Board Attorney Rod Malone, who was asked to speak to the matter by the superintendent, said that was the case. He said the board must first agree that there was a reason to enact the RIF policy and then hear from the superintendent as to recommendations of where the cuts would come at a later date.

“I understand that (Mr. Parker) may be saying he doesn’t feel he has the information to make that decision yet, but that would be the first step,” Malone said. “The second step would be for the board and superintendent to agree on the amount of cuts which would come for this position or that position.”

Malone said there were a variety of options as to how the board and superintendent could work together to make sure the board members were comfortable with the position cuts recommended by the superintendent.

Harris-Rollins said the plan was in front of them, but was not the only cost-cutting measures that were to be implemented in the district. She said there would be delays in implementing technology, travel reductions, cost reductions associated with personal appliances used on school premises and other cutbacks.

She said the RIF policy was brought before the board because of time concerns.  Harris-Rollins said even if one position were cut, the policy would have to be adopted and she felt it was more fair to make sure the person whose life was affected knew as quickly as possible.

Malone added that if the board acted immediately it would still likely be next month before the RIFs occur.

Parker said he had received calls from people who claimed to have already been told they would be out of a job because of the RIF policy. Harris-Rollins said many people make calls, but it didn’t mean they were accurate.

Malone said the board and superintendent could work together to decide what types of jobs would be cut before Harris-Rollins made her recommendations.

Parker, however, said he was concerned that certain people were “being targeted” while others were “off limits.”

“I don’t like that,” he said.

Malone again stressed that the board and superintendent could, in an open session, discuss what areas the RIF would affect. He said they could agree on a certain amount of the cost savings coming from certain places.

Lee then asked if the process could be reversed and the school district look at all possible savings without cuts before they began to make staff cuts.

Malone said that is the way the board requested former interim Superintendent Dr. Will Crawford to make the changes a year ago and that it was possible.

Lee then asked Harris-Rollins to discuss the changes that would be made in addition to staff cuts.

The superintendent said those changes include the removal of all personal appliances in the form of toasters, microwaves, etc. from school property to save on the utility bills, elimination of travel where possible, the elimination of county vehicles being driven home, the possible sale surplus vehicles, the possible elimination of travel for band and cheerleaders, the replacement of bus radios with cell phones and even the possible sale of the C.G. White school property in Powellsville.

Lee said she wanted to see the board look at all other available data before introducing a reduction of staff.

“The feeling is none of us want to consider a RIF,” Lee said.

Freeman, who had listened to the discussion without speaking, then added his point of view.

“It is going to have to be done,” he said, referencing the RIF. “I know none of us want to do it. I don’t want to, but we all know it will have to be done.”

Freeman said the EduJobs money and the reversion to the state would make it necessary.

“What is the number of the reversion,” Parker asked.

Freeman said, “I don’t know, but there is $600,000 already that has to be cut and there will be some reversion to the state. We are going to have to do it. I don’t see a way around it.”

“I don’t either, but I want more figures,” Parker said.

Malone said the board could simply agree to the $1.2 million figure and enact the RIF policy, but not agree on where it would come from at this point.

“I’ll buy into that,” Parker said, adding that he didn’t want people told “tomorrow” they would be effected.

After more discussion, Parker made the motion to enact the RIF, but not agreeing on the position to be eliminated at this time. His motion was approved by a 5-0 vote.