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School district staff: Fewer cuts anticipated for county

By Staff | May 6, 2009

The Lee County School District is reducing the number of expected layoffs announced three weeks ago as district employees and school principals find spots for teachers and support staff placed on surplus lists.
With roughly 500 positions being eliminated next year, the district’s head of human resources announced Tuesday that the district has whittled the number of contract employees who might be laid off down to 155 from a high of 283.
That leaves 78 teachers and 77 support staff members with whom the district is contractually obligated, yet does not have positions to offer in the coming school year, said Gregory Adkins, the district’s chief human resources officer.
The district is also dealing with a remainder of employees who are either up for contract renewal or are annual employees who have been told they may not have positions next year, said Adkins, though he could not provide a specific number.
He said the district is now turning to the fine arts and music programs proposed for elimination in the elementary schools. But Adkins hesitated to say whether they could be saved.
“It’s too soon to say,” he said. “There’s certainly a recognition, we would like to do as much as we can in those areas.”
Mark Castellano, president of the Teachers Association of Lee County, said the district is looking at alternative proposals, such as creating one position for an arts or music teacher that could rotate among several area schools, thus keeping art and music available to students and preserving at least some positions.
But Castellano said the process of relocating surplus employees is simply a good faith effort that happens every year.
“It’s just the numbers are bigger than ever before,” he said. “But, I’m not sure there’s a way it can be avoided.”
Nearly three weeks ago, the district notified about 500 people that they may not have jobs next year, all in the space of a day.
Teachers employed at least three years with the district and support staff employed at least two years were placed on surplus lists, making them first in line if another position becomes available through natural attrition such as retirement or relocation.
Though the district is anticipating less drastic budget cuts than originally feared, officials are still setting aside money and positions to prevent mid-year layoffs if lawmakers tell the district it needs to make cuts after June 30.
District officials followed a similar tack this year by reducing additional positions, which has come in handy as the district has received three separate mid-year cuts to date.
“What really troubles me, if they’re going to come out of the session on Monday and tell everybody what a wonderful job that they’ve done, they’ve held education harmless,” Castellano said. “Then, in October, they’re going to take away another $20 million.”
The news came during a 2:30 p.m. briefing meeting. However, the district’s 6 p.m. action meeting was canceled due to the lack of a quorum among the five-member board.
Board members Elinor Scricca and Jeanne Dozier were absent because of illness, and board member Steven Teuber was absent due to a death in the family.
Tuesday’s meeting is being rescheduled for May 26.
Because only three board members including Scricca were present at the afternoon meeting, Superintendent James Browder decided to hold off on a discussion about expected budget numbers from the Legislature, which are slowly taking shape this week.
The information will be presented at a workshop Monday at 3:30 p.m., which will be preceded by a special meeting to allow the board to vote on some time-sensitive items not covered Tuesday.

In other news
— Board members voted unanimously to suspend without pay a school support employee accused of browsing the Internet while two special needs students engaged in sex acts in his classroom at Royal Palm Exceptional Center.
Thomas McCoy was suspended with pay in January after working for the district — with the exception of several months away — since 1998.
District officials say he was browsing ESPN.com while two special needs students, one 15-year-old girl and one 17-year-old boy, engaged in a sex act behind a bookshelf.
McCoy requested an administrative law judge hearing regarding the suspension, which is expected to be set for sometime in the next several months. Until then, the district cannot legally terminate his employment.

Leslie Williams is a staff writer for the Naples Daily News.