Budget cuts have forced the Harlan Independent Board of Education to take drastic measures to reduce their operating costs. At a special called meeting of the board on Friday, Superintendent David Johnson made recommendations in the school system’s Administrative Restructuring Plan for the school year 2012-13, and those recommendations were approved unanimously.
Cuts made in the approved plan were as follows: one counselor position, declare one counselor of the two remaining positions to be an itinerant district position that will serve the elementary and middle/high school, cut the middle/high school assistant principal position, a reduction of contract days and extra service pay for elementary school principal position from 240 to 220 and establish the extra service pay at $5,000 with no provision for child enrollment and reduction of contract days for the director of special education from 230 days to 220 days.
“We are faced with reducing our budget in the amount of approximately $370,000,” said Johnson. “Even with this administrative plan this is just the start. This reduction will not cover $370,000. We will have to make other reductions in order to meet our goal.”
Language Arts Teacher Amy King gave a heart-wrenching plea to board members to reconsider cutting the middle school counselor and principal positions, saying Cathy Estep and Emily Clem are “treasures” to the school system. King asked the board to wait until the summer ends to see if other staff retire before making cuts in positions.
To address King’s comments, Johnson said the legal requirement is that notice must be given 90 days prior to the first day of the upcoming school year. He said the first day of school for 2012-13 school year is Aug. 7.
“Stepping back and pausing this, legally if we don’t take this action, those people are entitled to their positions and salaries in the next school year,” said Johnson. “Even if you change someone’s position after that point, you’d still have to pay that salary.”
Johnson said if school districts spend more money than they have, the state will then take over the management of the school district’s finances.
“That’s what all school districts desperately try to avoid,” said Johnson. “If these type of cuts aren’t made it just gets passed along elsewhere to other positions. It isn’t just absorbed. This is something we all have to understand, we have to accept that the structure we have had for a number of years is not going to be able to be continued, regardless. We have worked diligently, in the course of this recession, to minimize the impact on our schools because of the financial problems of the nation and state. We have made cuts and trims and a number of things over the past four or five years to allow us to have minimal impact in our schools. Now, we’re at a point we can’t continue that.
“My hope is that the national economy will recover soon and we’ll be able to restore some things. But, I don’t see, as the circumstances are today, we’ll be able to return to the full structure we currently have. We are faced with a difficult situation. We’re going to have to make cuts and adjustments, but I believe we can adjust to them and we can continue to provide an outstanding education for our children. Harlan Independent Schools has received numerous recognitions in the past several years and it’s because of the hard work of our people and our children. I believe once we have the opportunity to adjust and accept what is coming, we’ll be able to maintain and continue that. This is a starting point. Should funds become available as we work our way toward the end of the fiscal year, we may be able to consider funding some of the positions which will be cut. We’ll have to determine what our priorities are if money becomes available.”
A large number of teachers attended the meeting to show their disappointment with the cuts. Johnson said the meeting was scheduled at an unusual time so that a representative for groups of teachers were able to attend the board meeting and express their concerns.
“We are unwavering in our commitment to educational excellence for our children in this community and we’re going to try our hardest to make this a fun, happy place where they can feel safe and get a good education,” said board member Cindy Allison.
Johnson ended by saying, “We will come through this stronger. It won’t be the same, it’ll be different, but we’ll be stronger. That, I am confident in.”
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