Board member Pam Sherman Sheffield began the discussion by saying she was unhappy with an earlier decision by the group to change the district's staffing plan from a 22-1 pupil-to-teacher ratio to 25-1 in grades four and five.
“I've lost a lot of sleep over staffing and hadn't realized how many positions were lost,” Sheffield said.
Board chairman Gary Farmer said he agreed about the importance of keeping the teaching positions but said the district would be cutting its budget dangerously close without the staffing change, which he said cuts six positions across the district. Farmer later said that all six positions cut would be through attrition, meaning no current teachers would lose their jobs.
Board members Myra Mosley and Arlene Brown said they agreed with Sheffield and voted 3-1 to revert back to the previous 22-1 ratio in grades four and five, despite the warnings of Saylor and assistant superintendent Mike Howard.
“We can't balance the budget unless we take it from somewhere else,” Howard said.
Saylor said he sent a letter to board members during the week, explaining the “crisis” the district faces and reminding the board about a previous state takeover of the district.
“We're trying to keep our heads above water, and you have to make tough decisions,” Saylor said. “The ratio is still below the state average and still good. I'm asking you not to change this staffing plan. I will not recommend it.”
Current state regulations call for a maximum student-teacher ratio of 27-1 in the fourth grade and 29-1 in the fifth grade.
The district faces a time crunch on notifying employees of cuts due to an April 30 state deadline. The board called a special meeting for tonight at 7:30 to decide what will be cut to balance the budget.
After the board voted, Farmer asked the three who voted in favor of the change for recommendations on where the cuts should come from to make up for the approximately $180,000 they added to the budget.
“If we fall below the contingency after the board voted to put this back, then if the state comes in they will probably remove this board,” Howard said.
“There's no probably about it,” said Saylor.
Saylor then asked the board to reconsider its decision.
“I'm not changing my mind,” Sheffield said.
“I stand by my decision,” added Mosley.
After Saylor said it was the board's responsibility to cut positions, Sheffield suggested cuts could be made at the central office.
Brown agreed, adding that most central office salaries were higher than those of teachers. Mosley said she didn't know what the answer was to the problem.
“Either way we lose teachers,” said Saylor, who pointed out that if central office employees' positions were cut they would return to the classroom because they were tenured employees. “You could probably just about wipe out this office here and not cover the deficit. We need to think a little bit about what we're doing, please.”
In other action, Saylor updated the board on a meeting he had with Congressman Hal Rogers about plans for extending sewage lines in the Rosspoint area, which would serve homes in the area as well as Rosspoint Elementary School and the new Harlan County High School.
“I have said all along that funding should be there without the school system putting in money, which he can't do legally for that type of project,” Saylor said.
Saylor said he received correspondence from Jenny Huddleston of Rogers' office about the project, noting that the city of Harlan will be able to apply for a grant in the summer.
“We have had conversations with the city of Harlan and we have asked them to submit for a wastewater construction grant through PRIDE for this project,” according to the correspondence. “This is a 100 percent funding round, meaning that you don't have a local match. ... We do have this listed as a priority for funding.”
“The funding is there,” Saylor said. “All they have to do is apply for the grant.”
The board also held the second reading of the model procurement policy and approved the consent agenda, which included advertising for bids for bus maintenance parts and supplies, gasoline and diesel fuel, tires and school food service.
The board did not vote in favor of deeding property above Green Hills Elementary School to Nally & Haydon. Farmer made a motion to that effect, but it died due to the lack of a second.
Saylor presented the Superintendent's Award to Cawood Elementary School teacher and coach Teddy Stephens. Attendance awards were presented to Rosspoint Elementary School and Cumberland High School.
Board member Brenda Henson was absent due to a recent illness.