Morenci school layoff notices issued 2012.05.02

Written by David Green.

sally: how many attended?

 

By DAVID GREEN

The Morenci Board of Education voted at a special meeting April 24 to give layoff notices to eight teachers, but the decision didn’t come without resistance from some staff members and parents.

Layoff notices were given to four high school teachers—Heather Walker, Deb Hertler, Matt Bostick and Jamie DeVoe—and to four elementary school teachers—Paula Grieder, Kelly Bush, Keith Filipek and Chris Mansfield.

The elementary school teachers were chosen on seniority. At the high school, certification is first examined and then seniority comes into play. For example, the district has five English teachers among the middle and high school staffs.

Morenci superintendent of schools Dr. Michael Osborne told board members and a crowd of more than 60 parents, teachers and students that there’s no way of knowing now how many staff members will actually face layoff. The pink slips must be issued now due to stipulations in the teachers’ contracts, he said, and this will allow the administration to face numerous situations that might arise.

“Before we know enrollment, before we know our final budget numbers, we have to make decisions about what things will look like next year,” Osborne said, “and we have to be ready for a variety of scenarios.”

“No one thinks we haven’t already made too many reductions in the districts,” he continued. “We feel like we’ve done way too much already and here we are maybe having to do more.”

Board trustee Gary Ries asked what scenario would result in the layoff of four teachers at the elementary school.

A drop in enrollment of 30 to 40 students would result in an enormous loss of state revenue, Osborne said, but on the other hand, the district could end up gaining that many students.

“This is basically an overkill in case we do lose a lot of students,” Ries said.

He later cast the only opposing vote against the layoff decision.

“It’s always an overkill,” stated board president Scott Merillat, “as many years as we go back,” adding that the exact size of a reduction can’t be known ahead of time.

“I hope that listing four is an overkill,” Osborne said. “I hope that listing one is an overkill.”

Before the board discussion, teacher Beth Wright spoke as a representative of the elementary school. She asked the board how four teachers plus a retirement could be cut from a staff that’s already bare bones.

“You’ll probably say that isn’t even going to happen,” she said. “Then why are layoff notices being given if it’s not even a possibility?”

Wright said she’s concerned about the reaction from parents who learn of the layoffs, fearing that it could lead to an additional decline in enrollment.

Middle school teacher Sally Kruger also expressed concern about the stability and reputation of the school district. Kruger said she resents the opinion that saving the district falls on the shoulders of teachers.

“We’ll be portrayed as the bad guys if we don’t take concessions up to and potentially more than a third of our individual incomes,” she said.

Osborne said he would regret a parent’s decision against sending a child to Morenci because they think the situation is so bad.

“I don’t think it is so bad, but we have to be prepared,” he said. “It is a very difficult situation and we apologize that we have to put our community through this, especially our teachers.”

An audience member said she enrolled her four children in Morenci and she called it an incredibly good experience.

“I love this district,” she said.

Osborne said he will continue working to keep the district out of a financial deficit. There are no advantages to the district to go into deficit; on the other hand, it opens up possibilities that no one wants to consider, he said.

“We are going to make it through this,” he said. “The best thing for this school district, for the community, for the students, for the families is for the district to remain here,” said the superintendent.

He was asked if a tax increase was possible. Osborne said some districts are seeking bond issues and Morenci could do the same. The board has discussed the possibility of seeking additional revenue for technology needs and other projects, such as repair of the large parking lot at the high school.

RESIGNATION—The board voted unanimously to allow the superintendent or board president to sign a resignation and settlement agreement from music teacher Jamie DeVoe.

The board intended to initiate tenure charges for dismissal, but instead DeVoe’s attorney requested a resignation and settlement. The board approved that request, but didn’t yet have a signed document from DeVoe.

Osborne explained later that the settlement was reached before the board concluded an investigation into alleged inappropriate behavior.

Several people gave their support for DeVoe during a tearful comment session, calling him a dedicated, outstanding teacher who was willing to go beyond the school day to take part in activities.

Student Spencer Elliott said that DeVoe “has made a difference in my life and you can see from the turnout that he’s made a difference in other people’s lives.”

Another student, Samantha Mikuski, wrote in a letter that the director is the glue that holds the group together.

Community member Sybil Diccion said she could think of no other person she would want to lead the band program besides Mr. DeVoe.

Osborne said he wanted to assure the audience that action would not be taken based on rumor, and that discipline actions would not be taken without evidence.

Board member Ivy Hutchison said she has been one of the biggest supporters of Mr. DeVoe.

“We wouldn’t make this decision without careful, careful consideration,” she said tearfully. “I love the band program and we wouldn’t do it unless we believed it was the best thing for the kids.”

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