The Liberty County Board of Education has officially lifted a hiring freeze imposed in January, but that doesn’t mean the school system’s financial situation has suddenly improved.
Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee said this move allows the district to rehire those employees who were “displaced” as a result of the elimination of 43 positions, which the board approved in February.
“To date, we have already placed about 70 percent of those individuals,” Lee told the board. “We still have a few teachers at the elementary level that we need to place and, of course, we have … some individuals who have opted to retire and other reasons that they are leaving the district, which also poses vacancies across the district.”
According to a slide shown during a board meeting in February, 22 of the eliminated positions were in the central office, and 21 were at the school level.
Also, as part of a cost-cutting restructuring, four teachers at the Liberty County Pre-K Center, who earned salaries that were significantly higher than what the state funds for prekindergarten teachers, were transferred in February to fill vacancies at elementary schools.
Dr. Patti Crane, the school system’s chief information officer, said in an email Monday that the eliminated positions at the school level include some that were part of the pre-K restructuring, elementary computer lab teachers and one assistant principal and one registrar from each high school. Some of the positions eliminated at the central office are the district’s media coordinator, three Response to Intervention coordinators, two technicians, an assistant grounds foreman, a social worker and several positions that were never filled, Crane said.
Response to Intervention is a program designed to help teachers identify students early who are struggling to meet grade-level standards and provide them extra help.
During the work session March 24, Chief Financial Officer Roger Reese updated the board on the fiscal 2015-16 budget process. He focused his remarks on personnel.
Adding in projected increases in the districts’ share of unemployment, Medicare and Teacher Retirement System contributions, Reese said, the district would have to spend $3.5 million more on salaries and benefits than it does this year.
But the staff reductions, including the benefits paid on top of salaries, will save the district $3.1 million, making up almost all of the cost.
Thirteen positions are expected to be added for 2015-16 as the district stops participating in Ombudsman, a contracted alternative-education program that blends online and teacher-led instruction for students who have struggled in the traditional school setting. Those new positions will be part of a new alternative program the district will start called the Liberty County Horizons Program, and they are budgeted to cost $502,000 in salaries and benefits.
That accounts for most of the $883,000 total projected salary-and-benefit cost increase for next school year. While that is significant, it’s far less than the $4.3 million increase the district would have faced without the staffing cuts.
“I would hate to think where we would be had we not approved those reductions,” Board Chairwoman Lily Baker said. “And for those board members that supported that, I want to say ‘thank you’ for doing that because we would be in bad shape.”