MILLERSPORT – Students returning to Walnut Township Schools in August will see a lot of new faces.
Superintendent Randy Cotner said roughly one half of the district staff has left either through layoffs or voluntarily via retirement or fear of the district going into fiscal emergency. “We’ve lost some good people in all areas,” he said.
The district has lost 13 certified staff (teachers or administrators) since six lost their jobs when the district made significant cuts to eliminate a projected June 30, 2016, deficit. The cuts were required to keep the district from being forced into fiscal emergency, which turns financial operations over to a five-member Financial Planning and Supervision Commission.
In all, the district cut six teaching positions, several nonteaching staff positions, and imposed salary reductions for administrators and a one-year wage freeze for everybody else. The district continues to struggle to raise additional local revenue. A 7-mill, five-year levy, which would place the district on solid financial footing, will be on August 4 special election ballot.
“Right now, 50 percent of the staff has been cut or left by choice,” Cotner said, including Millersport Elementary Principal Angie Harrison. He said the district plans to fill all but two of the vacancies created by the voluntary retirements or resignations. The high school dean of students and the elementary school physical education teacher won’t be replaced.
Cotner said elementary school students will continue to have physical education classes but will likely share a physical education teacher with the high school.
“You can’t continue to keep doing all the things you’ve been doing,” Cotner said. He said the non-teaching staff reductions included one third of the custodial staff.
Cotner said the district has advertised aggressively to fill available positions. “You can get the word out wide and far,” he said. He said the district has received applications for most of the voluntarily vacated positions.
Cotner said the district has been very candid with job candidates about the district’s financial woes. “Attracting and retaining teachers is a concern,” he said. “It could only be a one-year stop.”
Cotner added, not surprisingly, that the district is having difficulty attracting experienced teachers to the positions, because depending upon the outcome of the August levy vote and whether the district will be forced into fiscal emergency, candidates cannot be offered more than one year of job security.
“No position is safe if we fall into fiscal emergency. The students will suffer a great loss,” he said. However, recent graduate teachers looking for practical experience are jumping for the positions. “It’s still a good place to be a teacher,” Cotner said. And, the district is a great place to gain experience, if only for a year. “We can make no promises past this (coming) year,” he said.
Vacated positions include:
• Junior high/high school guidance counselor
• Grades 5 and 6 science
• Grades 5 and 6 math
• Junior high/high school band
• High school special education
• High school dean of students (will not be filled)
• High school math
• Elementary physical education (will not be filled)
• Talented and gifted student teacher
• Elementary principal
• High school language arts
• Third grade teacher
• High school physical education/ health
Cotner said Wednesday that most of the positions have been filled and he assumed the remaining positions would be discussed at the next school board meeting. That meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Monday, July 13, in the elementary school library.
Cotner said it’s his sincerest hope the district doesn’t lose any more staff members. “I hope every day that I don’t get another one of a those calls,” he said, from another employee leaving the district.