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School Board offers solution

Rick Patrick: Greene Publishing, Inc.

During their scheduled workshop meeting on Monday, Feb. 4, the Madison County District School Board decided to offer a possible solution to the financial woes that have begun to plague the district.

Due to declining enrollment, funding for the district dropped significantly. This decrease in funding has caused the fund balance for the district to be in danger of dipping below required levels. The board has been attempting to find ways of cutting expenditures in order to bring the fund balance back to an appropriate level. Originally, the idea of closing outlying schools was considered. After consideration, the board decided against that idea. The next course of action presented to the board was to reduce staffing. This has caused a great deal of concern among many in the community.

Several people took the opportunity to address the board during the time set aside for public comment. One of these was Cynthia Stewart, a teacher at Greenville Elementary School. "I'm just here to put a face on the list [of those employees who are to be cut], said Stewart. "My position at Greenville Elementary School was cut without this board's approval and I was transferred. What you have done to my 15 first graders is totally interrupt their lives. We only had eight teachers, so to take one away is a bit much. I hope my position was not taken because I spoke out against what I thought were some things that were happening to Greenville that I thought was unfair."

The board has asked for recommendations on ways to cut costs. According to board members, many of these recommendations have merit, but few will provide the kind of immediate relief being sought.

One suggestion was to propose an across the board pay cut. According to board attorney Tommy Reeves, the teacher's union is unwilling to negotiate or even consider an across the board pay cut. Another suggestion was to offer furlough days in which employees would not work and not be paid for those days.

According to District Chief Financial Officer Walter Copeland, each furlough day could save the district approximately $50,000 in compensation expenditures. Based on a non-binding poll of members of the local teacher's union, 48 percent of those polled would be willing to give up two furlough days in order to save employees from being laid off. It was unclear if union members would accept more than two furlough days. "It will come down to furloughs or cuts [in staff]," said board member Bart Alford. "If furlough days are not accepted then we will have to add more people to the list of cuts."

"It's just not mathematically possible to get where we have to be without cutting expenditures in payroll," said Copeland.

Alford suggested the board present to the teacher's union eight, nine or 10 furlough days. If accepted, this could possibly save the district the $500,000 needed to bring the fund balance back in line. If furlough days are taken, an attempt would be made to schedule them during paid holidays and during teacher planning days in order to minimize the amount of time students would miss out of the classroom.

District employee Sam Stalnaker asked the board members if they would be willing to take a comparable cut in their pay as board members. Each of the board members agreed to take a pay cut.

Copeland also suggested district staff be called upon to act as substitute teachers, rather than continuing to hire substitute teachers. Copeland felt this could result in a significant savings to the district.

The board members agreed to present the furlough days solution to the teacher's union for their approval. An emergency collective bargaining meeting was scheduled with the teacher's union on Wednesday, Feb. 6.

The Madison County District School Board will meet on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 6 p.m. in the Madison County High School cafeteria. It is expected that a final decision on a reduction of staff, or the implementation of furlough days, or a combination of the two, will be made.

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