Houston school system details method for staff cuts

Houston County Board of Education staff members received a letter Friday from Superintendent David Carpenter outlining how the system will implement reduction in force cuts in response to budget shortfalls.

The letter includes a six-tiered method of determining which employees’ jobs will be cut, looking at criteria such as unsatisfactory annual evaluations, documented performance concerns and whether the staff members have multiple skill sets, such as additional certification or supervising extracurricular activities. A staff member’s seniority in the system is the last factor considered in the plan.

“The district will execute a Reduction in Force of all certified and classified positions that have been identified as overstaffed due to a reduction in state funding and not addressed through attrition, using a criteria largely based on the performance of the individual employee,” according to the letter.

The plan is based on a plan used in Fulton County, Carpenter said, in compliance with existing Houston County board policy.

To begin the cuts, officials will look at the ratio of teachers to students in each grade level. If it is lower than the systemwide ratio, those teachers will be considered for cuts.

At the high school level, the ratio will rise from 24 students per teacher currently to 26 students per teacher next year. Both figures are lower than the state’s maximum limit of 30 teachers per student, Carpenter said.

At the elementary and middle school levels, the schools are staffed at maximum capacity within state limits, although it does not necessarily correspond that student enrollment is also at capacity, Carpenter said.

At its April 13 meeting, the school board approved a plan that cut 80 classified jobs, saving the school system about $4 million. An additional 14 job openings would either not be filled or paid for through federal grant funds, including two central office positions.

Officials also said they would consider cutting 99 additional certified positions, which include teachers and principals. Carpenter expects about half of those positions will be reduced through staff resignation and retirement.

Affected personnel will be notified no later than May 15, Carpenter said.

Personnel expenses make up 89 percent of the system’s budget, and cuts to staff will be necessary to account for $25 million in state funding cuts, the letter said.

The system’s employees also will have to work under a reduced work calendar next year, though the reductions have not been finalized yet, Carpenter said. Other cuts remain to be seen as more information is released at the state level.

“This is not an easy time for our system, and we know that words are little comfort, especially to those most personally affected. Our coworkers are like family, so that makes this even harder,” wrote Carpenter in the letter. “These decisions are the most troublesome I have ever wrestled with in my 35 years in education. I must believe, though, that no matter what lies ahead, our school system is strong and will survive.”