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Staff cuts proposed at Liberty Union

BALTIMORE – Liberty Union Thurston School Board members are poised to cut expenses by $500,000 for next school year.

“It is the same thing everybody is facing,” Superintendent Paul Mathews told The Beacon. “Fifty percent of our funding comes from the state.” He said school districts could sit around and wait for the final answer on the amount of state aid for the next two years, but Mathews believes steps need to be taken now.

Governor John Kasich just presented his biennial budget proposal Tuesday to address Ohio’s projected $8 billion deficit. His proposal will be controversial and may not be approved in its final form until late June. Ohio’s next fiscal year begins July 1.

Mathews and district Treasurer David Butler are anticipating a 10-20 percent reduction in state support for next school year. First up were the district’s two contracts with employees.

Board members and teachers recently approved a one-year teachers’ contract. It includes a complete pay freeze – no base increases or step increases. Slight increases were made to health care plan deductibles and co-pays. They are intended to off-set cost increases caused by national healthcare requirements. “National reform adds to the cost of healthcare,” Mathews explained. Even with employees paying a bit more next year, Mathews and Butler expect the district’s healthcare costs to increase 10 percent.

Non-teaching employees have scheduled a ratification meeting for Wednesday on what is believed to be a very similar contract.

“Both groups understand that even with a complete pay freeze it wasn’t enough,” Mathews added. Consequently, he and Butler have proposed some reductions in force for administrators and teachers. There will also be some RIF’s on the non-teaching side once a contract agreement is reached.

The following RIF’s are proposals at this point. Board members will make the final decisions at their April 11 meeting.

• Administration: Eliminate the position of assistant high school principal. Tim Turner is the current assistant principal. Middle school principal Hank Gavarkavich is retiring at the end of this school year. Mathews plans to recommend that the board replace Gavarkavich with Turner.

• High School: Three teachers – Family & Consumer Science, Information Technology and Industrial Arts – will move from full-time to half-time status. Information Technology will still be a required course for sophomores, but it will be cut from a full year to a semester. There will be a loss of some electives in these areas that will be partially offset by no longer sharing the high school art teacher with the middle school. The district’s French language program will be phased out over two years. French 1 will not be offered next year, but current French students will be able to take one more year of French. After next year, French will no longer be offered, eliminating one half foreign language teacher position.

• Middle School: One teaching position will be eliminated, reducing electives.

• Elementary School: Three years ago the district added a fulltime art teacher. That position will be eliminated, ending specific art education. Board members approved Mollie Grube’s retirement at the end of the school year Monday night. She is a half time elementary school reading specialist. She will not be replaced. The school will still have two full-time reading specialists. Mathews said a teachers’ contract provision requires classroom aides if class sizes exceed a specified level. That provision has been put on hold for next year. The elementary school has five aides this year. He and Butler are recommending that those five positions be eliminated next year as well as other reductions in support staff.

Mathews isn’t optimistic that these staff cuts will be restored any time soon. “It is our projection that we will be making additional re- ductions in the budget next year (2012/2013 school year) as well,” he said. “The state has serious economic problems and we’re doing what is necessary to live within our budget.”

The proposed RIF’s were briefly discussed during Monday night’s board meeting. Teachers’ union President Holly Lavender and three teachers presented some concerns to board members. At the high school, “We’re concerned about the loss of electives,” Lavender said. Concern was also expressed about the cutback in Information Technology at a time when there is an increasing focus on technology. The reductions could also cost the high school its yearbook advisor. The loss of one middle school teacher will “cause a loss of flexibility in scheduling.”

Several teachers lamented the loss of the elementary art teacher. “It is not a crafts class,” Lavender told board members. Board members were given a binder from the art teacher that included letters of support from parents and research data attesting to the role of art in childhood development and educational progress.

Board members were asked to look at other areas as much as possible for the budget reductions. Lavender added that the half-time status for some high school teachers would have a major impact on their health insurance costs as well. She pledged that no matter what happens next month, “the education of our students will be our top priority.”

“We will continue to look at all angles,” board President Art Brate told the group.

In other business Monday night, architect Joe Schappa reported, “We’re getting really close on the high school.” He hopes most of the punch list work remaining from the renovation project can be done in the next week or so. There is still quite a bit of change order work to be done. Schappa expects the whole school will be under warranties of varying length by next month.

The bid package to demolish the old middle school and resurface the high school parking lots should be out next month. There are some questions whether underground contamination from a old fuel tank has extended under the old middle school. Schappa hopes the repaving work can be done this summer.

“The building (new middle school) is back on schedule,” he said. “They are working hard to keep it on schedule.” Schappa said subcontractors are now working much better with each other than they were. The new school is almost completely “dried in” now, with most of the drywall partition work done. A lot of the geothermal well heat pumps are being installed and the long awaited big air handlers for the heating and cooling system are arriving this week.

Plans for the southbound Ohio 158 left-hand turn lane into the elementary and middle school complex have been significantly revised. Schappa said the length of the turn lane has been extended beyond the consultant’s recommendation based on actual traffic observations. The turn lane will now start in front of Christ United Methodist Church. There is sufficient room in the right-of-way for the lane except for a small portion in front of Faith Lutheran Church. Schappa hopes the project can go out to bid next month.

Thanks to a successful winter sports season and some high achieving students, the recognition portion of the meeting took 30 minutes. Co-students of the month are Kayleigh Caito and Elijah Varney. Caito, daughter of Caryl and Tony Caito, is a sophomore. She plays volleyball; is a member of the Leo Club, FCCLA and high school marching band; and is taking college prep courses. Varney, son of Dawn and John Varney, is a junior. He is an assistant yearbook editor; a high school choral member; and active with his church youth program.

The Zonta Club of Columbus named senior Helen Cothrel one of the 12 outstanding young women of Central Ohio. The selection criteria was based on academics, leadership and service.

Senior Klare Williamson was honored for her selection as an All-Ohio Swimmer. She participated in 59 varsity swim meets and was a four-time qualifier for the state meet. This year she finished 13th in the 100 meter backstroke setting a personal best and school record time.

Senior Shane Snyder was recognized for his selection as an Academic All-Ohio Football. He has a 4.0 gpa.

Two high school engineering competition teams were honored. The teams took first and third place in the Athens competition and both may have qualified for the nationals.

The high school knowledge bowl team won its first ever Mid-State League Championship this winter. The middle school wrestling team was 3-0 in the league and won the MSL championship with nine first-place finishes and seven second-place finishes. The seventh grade girls basketball team won the MSL championship by one point in overtime.

The eighth grade girls basketball team had a perfect season with a 17-0 record and average score of 44-16. They also won the MSL championship. “They ran the table this year,” Mathews said.

Board members also approved Betty Winger’s retirement as high school intervention specialist effective August 1. Susan Steffen’s resignation from the Outdoor Education program was also accepted. A supplemental contract for Audrey McGee as head girls soccer coach was approved.

The board’s next regular meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Monday, April 11, in the high school library. Board members will be make a decision on the proposed RIF plan at this meeting.

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