CUYAHOGA FALLS — A somber-looking Board of Education unanimously agreed to lay off 13 teachers in an effort to trim the district’s budget at Wednesday night’s meeting.
The teachers facing layoffs include six from Cuyahoga Falls High School: credit recovery faculty member Joe Caruso; science teacher Brooke Larsen; social studies teachers Vincent Colotto and Lillian Meyer; and math teachers Stephanie Sigman and Amber Taylor.
Layoffs from other schools include: Roberts Middle School language arts teacher Jonathan Hadinger; Lincoln Elementary School fourth-grade teachers Carlene Fliss and Carie Hartsoe, Richardson Elementary School intervention specialist John Coundourides and fourth-grade teacher Venus Rehs, Preston Elementary School second-grade teacher Jacqueline Krysh; and DeWitt Elementary first grade teacher Nicole Pontius.
"It’s always the most painful action we have to make as a top level administrator," said Superintendent Todd Nichols. "They make contributions that are invaluable. As the district’s enrollment declines, it’s necessary to right size the district and be fiscally responsible to our taxpayers. Still, it’s very painful."
In April, Nichols said the staffing cuts could save the district roughly $1.9 million, but this was dependent on who would ultimately be cut.
In all, 26 positions were impacted throughout the district, but the number of layoffs were reduced through retirements and resignations, said Ellen McClure, director of human resources.
She added that the call-back process has already started due to retirements and staff leaving. This is not the first time the district has faced staff cuts. In 2017, more than 20 teachers were laid off to cut about $2 million from the 2017-18 budget; they were all called back through other staff retiring or otherwise leaving the district, McClure said in a discussion before the meeting. The longest anyone stayed on the callback list from that time was one year.
Melody Carlisle, the president of the Cuyahoga Falls Education Association, said the union "is very saddened to be losing so many of our colleagues and friends."
"While we understand the financial and enrollment situations that lead to the reduction in force, this has been very difficult on everyone involved," Carlisle said. "The union is doing everything we can to help these talented educators navigate their paths back to employment and assist them in any way that we are able."
According to information from the Cuyahoga Falls City School District, total October enrollment has been around 4,900 in recent years, but has decreased over the past three years:
• 4,877 in 2011-12
• 4,928 in 2012-13
• 4,899 in 2013-14
• 4,853 in 2014-15
• 4,968 in 2015-16
• 4,910 in 2016-17
• 4,824 in 2017-18
The 2018-19 enrollment figures, as of Jan 31, were 4,591.
"I believe right-sizing the district is the right thing to do, but it doesn’t take away that these are real people," said Anthony Gomez, school board member.
Board member Kathy Moffet said the decision is "always painful."
"We will miss them," Moffet said. "These people will be deeply missed, and we wish them the best."
Moffet said that residents need to be aware on how schools are funded by the state.
Board member David Martin agreed.
"Nine others [teachers] have opted to retire or resign, or this list would have been longer," Martin said. "But this is what we have to do until the fellas in Columbus or Washington figure out a better way to fund our schools."
Two contract extensions approved
The school board also unanimously approved one-year contract extensions for the Ohio Association of Public School Employees Local 111 and Service Employees International Union, Local 1. According to the contract language for both the OAPSE and SEIU extensions, the agreement would be for one year, from Aug. 1 through July 31, 2020.
The hourly wage rate schedule will not change, but eligible employees will receive wage step raises.
On Jan. 30, the Board of Education voted 2-2 on proposals to extend all three unions’ contracts by one year through the end of the 2019-20 school year. Board President Karen Schofield was absent.
However, because the teachers’ contract had been signed prior to the vote — which failed to reject the contract — it went into effect, according to Superintendent Dr. Todd Nichols, who announced the determination at the end of March. Similar extension agreements were not approved with the other two unions because they had not been signed before the vote, so the school board re-entered negotiations with those two unions.
Gomez, who had previously voted against the extension, said he felt differently this time around because the financial outlook for the district.
According to the five-year forecast presentation given by Interim Treasurer Kathryn Brugger in May, the district’s outlook is a bit brighter than previous forecasts indicated; one reason is there will be no increase in insurance premiums in 2020. In addition, the district received a $408,000 credit in fiscal year 2017. According to the presentation, the reduction-in-force will reduce benefit expenses by $122,233 starting in fiscal year 2020.
Carlisle said she and the members of CFEA "is also grateful to the board for unanimously approving the contract extensions for our brothers and sisters in OAPSE and Local 1."
"At the same time, we are disheartened at the lengths all three unions had to go to basically give concessions to help the school district," Carlisle said. "This has been a rough year for the board and the staff of Cuyahoga Falls. I am hoping, as we move forward, we can begin to work together more cohesively on what is best for our students and for our staff alike."
Representatives from SEIU and OAPSE could not immediately be reached for further comment.
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @AprilKHelms_RPC