BY Jordan Cohen
In an effort to save $1.4 million next year, the Niles school board will be asked this week to lay off 15 teachers and 19 nonteaching staff.
However, even with the layoffs, a sizable deficit would remain for fiscal year 2013, warns Superintendent Mark Robinson, who will propose the layoffs at the board’s meeting Wednesday.
“Even with those cuts, we still have to eliminate an additional deficit of $289,000,” Robinson said.
“I could have gone deeper [with layoffs], but we’ve been very conservative, and I’m hoping to find other options.”
Among the teaching staff, the cuts include a high school business instructor, a part-time physical education instructor, elementary teachers and two special-education teachers.
“We don’t have as high a level of need in special education as we used to,” Robinson said.
Robinson identified the positions in the noncertificated staff as custodians, educational assistants, bus drivers and cafeteria workers. The superintendent said the original plans were to furlough 20 of the non-teaching employees, but retirements enabled him to reduce the number by one.
“We base it upon need,” Robinson said.
The upcoming school-board vote will mark the second reduction in force in the district in four years. In April 2008, the district eliminated a $1.5-million deficit by laying off nine teachers and one custodian.
Niles has been under state fiscal watch since 2003. Earlier this year, the district narrowly averted a declaration of fiscal emergency when voters approved a renewal levy. A state- run financial planning and supervision commission would have been placed in charge of school finances had that declaration been issued.
The superintendent said he hopes that negotiations with the Niles Education Association, the union representing the district’s nearly 200 teachers, will help alleviate the deficit as did an agreement last November with the union representing the non-teaching staff. The teachers’ previous contract expired last August. Several messages seeking comment from Mary Ann McMahon, NEA president, were not returned.
“The reduction [in staff] has not impacted negotiations and has not been thrown up as a roadblock,” the superintendent said.
Board member Eric Lanham said the difficulties in Niles is typical of the plight of other districts across the state. “We’re at a point that is unpleasant, but it is necessary especially when you look at our five-year forecast,” Lanham said.
The forecast projected a deficit exceeding $4 million by 2015 should current expenditures and anticipated revenues remain unchanged.
“We could try other things like pay-to-play for our sports programs, but looking at the economy of Niles, that would restrict a number of students from participating,” said Lanham, adding that the money earned from pay-to-play would be “minimal.”
First-year board member Christopher Doutt declined comment on how he will vote Wednesday. Doutt, a retired Niles schoolteacher, called the situation “unfortunate.”
Robinson said that he hopes to further reduce the deficit by keeping a tight rein on purchases of items such as textbooks and reducing costs of printing. He said, however, the state is still paying close attention to Niles’ plight.
“If we’re still showing a negative balance in October or November, we’ll probably hear from them,” the superintendent said.