Marion County School District lays off 261 employees
Published: Friday, May 31, 2013 at 5:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 31, 2013 at 5:42 p.m.
OCALA - The school district on Friday laid off 261 employees — including all 160 first-year teachers — to fill a $29 million funding gap for 2013-14.
The 101 other layoffs are:
• 16 middle and high school clerks
• 13 physical education technicians
• 72 district-funded elementary level teacher aides, known as paraprofessionals
"This is a dark day for us," school district spokesman Kevin Christian said on Friday just before the employees were informed. The layoffs will take effect June 30.
The district will get $13 million more from the state in 2013-14 than it did in 2012-13. But the budget is gloomy because $11 million of that additional money must cover new state-mandated costs. The district has been living off once-healthy reserves, but they have been depleted.
Each of the district's 51 schools had its budget sliced, and Superintendent of Schools George Tomyn announced that the district will not meet class-size mandates in 2013-14, either.
Tomyn took a long pause when asked if layoffs and cuts will affect the quality of education.
"How could it not?" he said in a candid Friday morning interview with the Star-Banner.
And things could get worse: "If more cuts are needed, possibilities include district-wide furlough days for employees and pay reductions across-the-board," Christian wrote in a news release issued Friday afternoon.
District officials said the 160 full-time teaching positions will be filled with full-time certified substitutes. These substitutes, who must have bachelor's degrees, are paid $100 per day and receive no benefits.
At Lake Weir High, the layoffs were especially hard. Principal Cynthia Saunders said head coaches in eight sports are first-year teachers. She will lose coaches in girls and boys basketball, girls and boys tennis, girls soccer, girls golf, wrestling and volleyball.
"It nearly wiped out my entire sports program," Saunders said. "It was a bad day."
Jeremy Shepard, 26, a West Port High music teacher, was a full-time substitute until this school year, when he was hired full time.
He said he received great evaluations. But if he wants to remain in Marion County, he will be forced to take on the same job as a full-time substitute, earning about $18,000 per year.
"I thought I would be one of the ones getting a $2,500 bonus (from the state), but now I will be teaching next year for half the pay," he said.
Another first-year teacher, who did not give her name, has been teaching for five years, though this was her first year in Marion County. Any teacher in his or her first year in Marion County was cut, no matter how many years he or she may have taught elsewhere.
This teacher said the district should have based the cuts on evaluations and performance, not number of years teaching in Marion.
"They should have let go of the ineffective teachers," she said.
Once those 160 positions are converted, the number of full-time certified substitutes will reach 411, or 15 percent of all teachers.
The move to full-time substitutes has angered the local teachers union, the Marion Education Association (MEA), which earlier this year filed a grievance against the district for the practice.
MEA President Chris Altobello said on Friday that teachers have been given fewer and fewer resources to assist them in achieving the district's core mission statement: "Leading the State in Raising Student Performance."
"Next year we will have to contend with ever increasing class sizes and fewer specialized instructors and support professionals at each school site," Altobello wrote in an email. "In addition, there will be some out there that will continue to have champagne tastes in education, but choose to only give us a root beer budget to accomplish it!"
The layoffs could have been worse if all the vacant positions in Tomyn's staffing plan had been filled. The 200 or so unfilled positions in that plan will not be filled in 2013-14.
And just months after Tomyn's administration announced that it intended to add back art and music teachers, as well as librarians, to every elementary school, he ended up cutting even more of the positions. About one-third of the elementary schools have been sharing these non-core teachers to save money.
The district will cut 38 more of the elementary school music, art, physical education and librarian positions.
If they meet education requirements, those employees will be shifted to teaching positions vacated due to retirement or other reasons. There will now only be 15 teachers in each of those areas at 31 elementary schools, Tomyn said.
Tomyn is also cutting 21 physical education teachers at elementary schools. Many elementary schools had two PE teachers; now each will only have one. The teachers whose positions will be cut will be moved to classroom positions.
Nine high school testing coordinators were also eliminated, as were nine high school vocational assistants. The district will use those employees to fill other jobs being vacated.
In addition to layoffs and staff shifting, the district is again cutting school budgets for copy machines and other supplies. The budget pool that provides stipends to teachers who coach or run after-school activities will be cut by 30 percent.
Beginning in 2014, Tomyn plans to cancel summer school at the middle and high school levels. He said students have more of an opportunity to retake classes online through virtual school.
As far as not meeting the class-size amendment, Tomyn said paying a state fine is much cheaper than hiring a teacher when one class goes over by one student.
A decade ago, Floridians voted to set class-size caps at every public school: 18 students in grades K-3; 22 in grades 4-8; and 25 in core high school classes.
Tomyn acknowledged that on the campaign trail last fall he promised not to violate the class-size caps. However, the district can save $7 million by allowing some classes to exceed the caps by one to four students.
Tomyn detailed the reasons for the tremendous budget shortfall, blaming it partially on the fact the district has been making ends meet using operation budget reserves for three years.
By the end of this budget year, the district will have depleted its available reserves, leaving a state-mandated 3 percent — $8.6 million — that can't be touched.
If the district drops below 3 percent, which it has this year, it would be put on a state watch list of sorts. If the districts' reserves drop below 2 percent, the state could take over the district's finances and cut wages by 10 percent across the board.
Tomyn noted the district used $10 million in reserve money this school year to make ends meet. That means in 2013-14, the district needs $10 million more just to break even.
At first glance, it appeared the district would be fine since it should get $13 million more from the state in 2013-14.
However, district officials recently learned that $11 million of the extra funding has been earmarked by the state — $7 million for teacher pay increases and $4 million to bolster the retirement system.
That immediately put the district in an $8 million hole.
Tomyn said his current staffing plan would cost $14 million if all 200 or so positions were filled. And then there was another $7 million in rising costs, like health insurance.
In the end, the net deficit ended up at $29 million, or 10 percent of next year's projected $295 million operating budget.
Tomyn said he wanted to keep the cuts out of the classroom as much as possible, but the deficit was just too steep this year.
Contact Joe Callahan at 867-4113 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at JoeOcalaNews.
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