If I hear one more phony excuse why we can’t alter the K-12 public school budget, disguised by the statement, “it’s for the children,” I think I will scream. I mean it. It’s sickening to hear our elected and appointed school officials drone on endlessly about how poorly resourced they are and about how drastic cuts have been in past years, all the while shooting down every attempt to restore fiscal wisdom and responsibility to the Lee County School System (LCSS) budget. Tuesday’s emergency Board of Education (BOE) meeting was just another in the litany of unproductive public sessions in which mere token efforts were made to adjust the budget.
In the end, Dr. Moss made his proposal to shave roughly $800,000 out of his original budget request in miscellaneous cost efficiencies and operational changes. The remaining $4 million or so in savings he must achieve will come from what is referred to as a reduction in force (RIF) of some 126 certified and non-certified people from the school system.
BOE Board members Cameron Sharpe and Mark Akinosho both defended options that would help avoid losing teachers and teachers’ assistants, but they failed to make a motion to the board to adopt their recommended deviations to the Superintendent’s planned adjustments. Sadly, either of their suggestions could have saved some jobs for teachers and TA’s, but board member Bill Tatum pre-empted adoption of their ideas by prematurely motioning to accept the Superintendent’s proposal without change. Thus, the 90-minute discussion of options became mere oratorical gymnastics for the entertainment of those in the gallery.
The BOE voted to perform the RIF process immediately, so every affected person would have the opportunity to have hearings and plead their cases. (Actually, these teachers and assistants are entitled to that by law, so the process had to start immediately if the LCSS plans to dismiss any of them before start of school this August.) Even as the state General Assembly and local Board of Commissioners are finalizing their final budgets, some Lee County school teachers can expect to see pink slips showing up.
From preliminary disclosures, it looks as if Dr. Moss has already zeroed in on who he wants to let go. His generic personnel cuts in non-certified positions included 12 clerical positions, 6 media assistants, 6 “More at Four” positions, and 44 or so teachers’ assistants. He has indicated 57 certified teacher positions would be cut, but not all of those are currently classroom teachers. (Some might be instructional support or curriculum development positions being held by certified teachers.) Not surprisingly, Dr. Moss only identified 2 positions out of Central Office to discharge. Moss indicated if the state senate’s version of the budget bill now going to conference committee prevails, then another 40 or so teachers’ assistants could be lost, on top of what he is currently projecting.
Future blog posts will analyze all the problems with the proposed school budget, from both a taxpayer and a parent’s point of view. But let me suffice it to say the School Board has been an abject failure at evaluating the full spectrum of operations and capital costs when scrutinizing Dr. Moss’ budget. To date, only token efforts have been made to identify and recommend cost savings from the status quo in our schools. And even when those ideas were floated, the school board failed to give them due consideration. Last night, for example, Cameron Sharpe and Mark Akinosho suggested two ideas that would have reduced the budget requirements by more than a million dollars and would have saved a third or more of the teachers and TA’s now on the chopping block. Both initiatives truly would have benefited the children. In the end, Dr. Moss vehemently objected to any effort to reduce or seek voluntary reductions of locally administered supplemental pay to save teachers. And even though all of the county’s principals’ would have supported Sharpe’s efforts to contract out janitorial/custodial positions to save $300,000 to $600,000 each year, thus saving a lot of teachers, board member Bill Tatum asserted his control over the school board by motioning to adopt without those changes being incorporated.
I continue to be sickened by the school board’s cliche use of the phrase, “it’s for the children;” even more so when they turn right around and take action that is diametrically opposed to that philosophy. It’s beyond the pale!