MANATEE -- The Manatee County school district plans to slash 188 positions in the coming weeks, and some of the district's senior administrative staff positions are vulnerable as well, Superintendent Rick Mills said on Tuesday.
While the school board approved cutting school jobs, including teachers, teaching assistants and janitors, Mills is in the process of analyzing his leadership team and deciding how to reorganize those top administrative positions and just who will remain.
The moves have everyone nervous and gossip is rampant about what changes are coming. Mills doesn't plan to let anxiety build. He said he hopes to bring his reorganization plan to the school board on April 8. In the meantime, he is relying on attrition to help eliminate many of the positions in the schools by July 1.
The district will have 72 fewer elementary school teachers, 13 fewer middle school teachers and 11 fewer high school teachers, depending on student population and class sizes.
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Michael Boyer, the chief financial officer for the school district, said by eliminating positions the district will save $10 million in the 2013-2014 school year.
The plan is also includes cutting 22 teachers for students with special education needs, 17 custodians and two elementary school media specialists. Boyer also proposed reducing the number of teacher aids, by 44 positions, to one aid for every 15 teachers.
Even with the staff reduc
tions, the school district expects to meet the state's class size requirements.
Karen Carpenter, chairwoman for the school board, said that the district currently has smaller class sizes than the state requires. Carpenter said that reducing the number of teaching positions makes sense.
The district was staffing elementary schools with a student to teacher ratio of 16-to-1 instead of the required 18-to-1. The state standard class size is 22-to-1 for grades four through eight and 25-to-1 for high schools.
School board member Bob Gause said that the smaller class sizes were an attempt to fill underutilized classrooms. However, the smaller classes doesn't seem to have improved student academic achievement as the school board had hoped.
"We needed to look at doing it differently," Gause said.
Gause made it clear that eliminating teaching positions doesn't mean that the district will lay off teachers immediately.
"This is not about cutting teachers; it's about changing the staffing formula," Gause said. "We need to monitor staffing more closely to meet class size requirements."
Gause said that position cuts will come as teachers retire, change careers and move to other districts. Based on the new class size formula, the district will not offer as many teaching contracts in the fall.
Superintendent Rick Mills said he is not moving forward with laying anyone off without doing more analysis, even though the possibility was raised at Monday night's school board meeting.
"I can tell you that the amount would not be significant," Mills said referring to the number of layoffs, but he said he will give employees plenty of notice if they are going to lose their jobs.
Mills added that the staff reductions will not put school programs and electives in jeopardy.
"I doubt it will have impact on electives," Mills said.
Carpenter hopes he is right.
"We would hope that these changes will not affect electives, as we have made a commitment to art and music," Carpenter said.
As part of the staffing changes, the school district will add eight parent liaisons to elementary schools that do not have assistant principals.
"We are adding these liaisons to try to improve a school's ability to manage the duties of contacting parents and dealing with smaller, various day-to-day issues," Gause said.
According to the school board, the parent liaisons will serve as a link between schools and parents, making calls that an assistant principal might make. Carpenter also sees the liaisons as having a partial disciplinary function.
Boyer added that the liaison positions are designed to strengthen parental involvement and advocate parental concerns to the district. Parent liaisons will have to have a bachelor's degree and a certification in ESE and a minimum of three years of training.
The district also plans to add 22 technology assistants to help in the media centers. Carpenter said they are going digital for online testing and assessments. She also said that it is important for students to learn how to conduct research online as schools move into virtual instruction.
"Technology assistants are needed in readying students for dealing with computer use," Carpenter said.
In addition the district plans to add three AVID teachers. While both Mills and Boyer said they need more details around this decision, Carpenter said that the program, Advancement Via Individual Determination, is in high demand.
"The AVID program does coaching and tutoring for college-bound kids and helps them realize their potential," Carpenter said. "It is different than standard classes. It is successful and meeting a need."
Principals have been notified about the staffing changes, both cuts and additions, and Boyer said they will be given flexibility in their student-to-teacher ratios "in extraordinary situations."
"However, we can't say yes all the time. That is why we are in the situation we're in," Boyer said.
Carpenter said that if there is a change such as a sudden spike in enrollment that the school board will be able to make adjustments.
"We will do the best we can with the money we have," Carpenter said. "This is the beginning of where we need to go for next year."
Mills said that while he is spending his first week as superintendent meeting community members and targeting class size, he is also working on a reorganization plan.
"I am looking at personnel, redundancies in positions, and how I can create greater efficiency by putting the right people in the right positions," Mills said in an interview with the Herald Tuesday.
Mills said that the senior staff former superintendent Tim McGonegal put in place are good people, but he needs to make sure they have the right skills and capabilities to drive core functions such as operations and communications.
Mills plans to present his reorganization recommendations to the school board on April 8 at the school board.
"Once I do more analysis, I will be make recommendations about certain positions, titles, and organization and what would change," Mills said.
Erica Earl, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.