CUYAHOGA FALLS -- The Board of Education voted to eliminate 18 teaching positions June 7, but the vote wasn't unanimous.
Superintendent Dr. Todd Nichols said the reduction in force, which he recommended to the Board, was necessary "due to substantiated financial reasons." Three Board members agreed and voted in favor of Nichols' plan to eliminate the positions but members Barbara Gunter and Dave Martin voted against the recommendation.
Prior to voting, three of the five board members offered remarks before an audience of 50 or 60 people, most wearing black and gold Cuyahoga Falls Education Association T-shirts.
"I am in tears over this," said Board member Kathy Moffet during the meeting in the high school library. "I was employed by this school district for 40 years. Due to many circumstances beyond our control, we find ourselves in this extremely difficult financial condition, along with Tallmadge, Woodridge and other surrounding school districts."
Moffet said the district has been making cuts for many years and it does not have enough money to provide all of the supplies needed in the classroom. "Too often we've been making the cuts instead of asking the community [to provide] additional revenue for our schools," she said.
"I think our Board members are going to have to discuss, and come to terms with, what we're going to do and the community is going to have to have those discussions with us and come to some agreement on how we can proceed and be fiscally sound," said Board member Patrice White. "It's heart-breaking I've worked with many of these people."
"This is one of those decisions no Board likes to make; knowing how hard our teachers work," said Board President Karen Schofield.
Last month, Nichols presented his plan to cut costs. At that time he had said contracts with 24 certified employees would be suspended. Since then, that had been reduced to 18.
Following the June 7 meeting, Melody Carlisle, president of the teachers' union, said she was pleased the number of eliminated positions had dropped. Carlyle said six teachers who had been told their positions were being cut were later reassigned to other jobs. She is hopeful more will be reassigned over the summer.
Gunter said she voted against the RIFs because the Board was left out of discussions related to budget cuts. "The Board was not involved or asked for any input whatsoever and I believe there was a better way," she said.
Gunter also said she believes because teachers were served RIF notices last month and then several were called back to work before the June 7 Board meeting, the Board's vote was "just a formality."
"We should have been asked to approve this earlier," Gunter said.
Following the meeting Martin said he voted against reductions in force because, "I am not a riffer. I don't riff. There are other ways,"
In additional cost-saving actions, the Board approved the elimination of the middle school and high school guidance secretary positions, and it voted to non-renew 21 non-union contracts with playground, food service and lunchroom monitors.
Athletic and activity fees were increased at the middle school and high school levels and a new technology fee of $30 per student was established.
Work coordinator named director of business and operations
The Board also approved a three-year contract to Joseph Bagatti as director of business and operations at an annual salary of $85,000. The vote was four in favor with one abstention by Dave Martin, whose motion to table this action failed 4-1.
Nichols said in 2015-16 school year, the district had a coordinator of business and grounds, a director of business and operations and a deputy superintendent, which totaled approximately $258,000 in salaries. This year, since the resignation of Hal Kendrick as director of business and operations last summer, Nichols has absorbed Kendrick's duties. Bagatti was the coordinator of business and grounds this year.
With Bagatti's new job title, he would take on those duties formerly associated with Kendrick's job and oversee food services and transportation and receive a $15,000 raise, Nichols said, making Bagatti's annual salary $85,000. Because Bagatti does not have a degree in business, Nichols said he and Treasurer Justin Klingshirn would oversee the financial work involved.
Nichols, in turn, would take on the responsibilities of the former deputy superintendent, Melvin Brown, who resigned recently. The district will not replace the deputy superintendent, he said, and that would save approximately $100,000.
"This is part of our larger picture in terms of financial savings," Nichols said. "Essentially we are going from $258,000 in 2015-16 to $85,000 in 2017-18. I will absorb the duties of college and career readiness. I'm trying to lead by example and accept more on my plate and continue to limit the impact on the classroom as much as we can."
"We should be able to have all three positions," Moffet said.
"We've been without a business manager for a year now and it has not worked out well," said Gunter. "The buildings need a lot of work. Our parking lots are a disaster. It's not even acceptable the condition they're in." Gunter said she doesn't believe this is the time to give anyone a raise, but Bagatti is being given added duties that "need to be taken care of now."
Gunter said this action will take "part of the burden off of Dr. Nichols. And no offense, but business isn't maybe your best forte."
"Oh, yes it is," Nichols interjected, "and it has worked well. I hate to contradict you, but it has worked well. We have parking lots that are being repaired this summer."
The district has met its obligations toward capital improvements and maintenance, the superintendent said, noting repairs are ongoing including $700,000 in roof work in the past two years.