As the Franklin County School District weigh options for finding $600,000 in savings, just to break even, several employees have announced their decisions to either retire or quit voluntarily.
Third grade teacher Paula Dykes and middle school math teacher Paul Marxsen both announced their departures, Jan. 14 and 22, respectively.
In addition, among several other voluntary retirements within both teaching and non-teaching ranks, the district has ended its use of a tutor with the Virtual School online language courses, and terminated a teacher who had been removed from the classroom in May 2012 for an incident in which he had dealt with a student in an aggressive and physical manner.
Dykes, who was in the state’s delayed retirement program after a long career teaching here, decided to leave before completing her last year in the program. Her students were reassigned to the remaining third grade teachers: Pam Schaffer, Marvin Boyd, Jeannie Ford and Cathy Creamer.
Marxsen, a certified public accountant, resigned to return to his CPA practice in Carrabelle. He had been teaching algebra and math remediation courses. These have been picked up by Kassi Malcolm, who teaches eight grade algebra, and math coach Dale Millender, with the remediation classes reabsorbed into other classes.
The change in the middle school math department follows the resignation at year’s end of Melonie Inzetta, who returned to a teaching position with the Florida Department of Corrections. Her sixth and seventh grade math classes have been picked up by Mike Emerson, who teaches ESE inclusion by working with special ed students in addition to their regular classroom teachers.
A former Apalachicola High School teacher, Robert Coursey, who had been handling a part-time foreman role in the transportation department, retired as of Dec. 31, 2013.
The position held by Maria Revercomb, who had worked on Tuesdays and Thursdays as a Spanish tutor with the Virtual School, was discontinued.
“The kids are doing that, they’re helping each other,” said Principal George Oehlert. “She remains as a substitute teacher on an as-needed basis.”
Betty Stephens, records clerk at the district office, also announced her retirement, after having been the delayed retirement options program (DROP) after several years with the district.
The only departure from the district for cause was Superintendent Nina Marks’ Jan. 4 decision to terminate former middle school math teacher Richard Metcalf, eight months after an incident the district believes constituted professional misconduct.
In her notice of dismissal, Marks wrote that on May 4, 2012, Metcalf “placed his hands on the chest of a student in an aggressive manner.” The notice acknowledged that “the student was at fault for participating in horseplay with the teacher” before writing that Metcalf “aggressively pursed the student, placed his hands on the student in a ‘choking’ manner, and appeared to be physically assaulting the student.”
The notice described Metcalf’s demeanor during the altercation as “belligerent, confrontational and loud,” and that “several students present” had witnessed the incident. It said statements and documents obtained by the district during the course of the investigation have been provided to the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Professional Practices, but that no decision had yet been made by the department.
Marks said that after the incident, she ruled that Metcalf could not have contact with students, and a substitute teacher assigned to handle his workload at the county’s Learning Academy. He continued to work assisting in several administrative and technology functions for the district, Marks said.
Metcalf has 15 days to decide whether to appeal the district’s decision, said the superintendent.
Marks began the Jan. 10 school board meeting with a detailed outline of the various steps along the district’s path to the present-day, where it stands about $620,000 short of a break-even point in its finances.
Marks said district administrators Nick O’Grady and Martha Weimorts had shifted as much money as they could from federal grants to pay labor costs, “Approvals have come through for some of the shifting,” said Marks. “We’ve done as much of that as we could at this point.”
The superintendent said the district has continued to take action to make sure its general fund balance does not fall below 2 percent of its budget, as it foresees will happen at the end of this fiscal year, June. 30, 2013.
In a Nov. 12, 2012 letter to Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart, Marks said that $313,000 in cuts had enabled the district to achieve a fund balance of 5.6 percent, but that a further decline in property values, announced by the property appraiser’s office on Oct. 22, 2012 had eroded that fund balance down to less than two-tenths of 1 percent.
A subsequent letter dated Jan. 11, 2013, to new Commissioner of Education Tony Bennett reiterated the earlier timeline, and then added that when the state’s third calculation for per pupil reimbursement was received Dec. 21, 2012, it had shown a declining enrollment of nearly 160 full-time students, and thus a loss to the district of nearly $620,000.
“Because our projection was off by 159 students, because we had children leave and the numbers are all calculated through what Franklin County submitted a year ago, we have been reduced by $619,000,” Marks told the school board. “That’s the reality of your budget issue as of today. If you have ideas how we can fix this, I’m open to it. We are all open to it.”
Marks then recommended a drastic 19.5 percent pay cut for all employees, which was not discussed by the school board during the regular meeting. Following the meeting, the board met in executive session with its labor attorney Leonard Dietzen, to formulate the district proposal and strategy going into collective bargaining talks resumed this week with the teachers and support personnel unions.
Marks’ proposal calls for school board members and top district administrators to take an additional 14.5 percent pay cut, on top of 5 percent they have already taken, retroactive to the start of the fiscal year Oct. 1. This additional cut would save about $51,000, Marks said.
The superintendent said the savings for having all the remaining school employees take a 19.5 percent pay cut, beginning with the second semester, would be $513,000, for a total of $564,000.
“That took my breath away,” Cathy Wood, president of the teachers union, told the school board. She estimated that the cut to her $48,600 annual base salary would be almost $10,000, which assumed that the cut would be retroactive to the start of the year, and not the second semester.
“I think I had a lovely little dissertation, how everybody works and how we try to make a difference in our children every single day,” she said. “But nobody understood until tonight (the numbers). It was clear and it was precise.”
Wood said the situation would be different today had the district opted to be a full mil, rather than a half-mil, when they went to voters to pass a referendum, which passed 54-46 percent at a special election March 2012.
“Yes, I supported a half mil, not a full mil,” said Jimmy Gander, school board president. “I thought it would sell better to the public.”
School board member David Hinton noted that “we chose a half mil because we could reduce capital millage by a half mil. That reduction was important to sell that election. We told voters no total increase in their millage.”
Gander proposed delaying payroll during the last month of the fiscal year, and having it paid out at the start of the next fiscal year. This, he argued, could save money during the current year, with those labor costs coming out of next year’s budget, when some of the tax monies lost out in 2012-13 will be recouped.
Gander shared his displeasure at the fact that enrollment projections had been way off, from an estimated 1,298 students down to an actual 1,138. “You are off 12.3 percent,” he said. “I don’t know there’s a another district in the state that’s off 3 percent. I’m thinking somebody wanted so much money in the budget and they built the budget.”
Marks concede the estimates had been off. “The projection was too high, that is correct,” she said. “We are at the here and now.
“All of these questions have been asked to the state, we don’t know what the answers are yet,” she said. “Right now they’re allowing us to be the ones to resolve it.”
Wood reinforced her pledge to work cooperatively with the administration.
“There are still wonderful things happening,” she said. “Is the morale shaky? That’s a very polite word.
“We don’t come to you to say you’re bad and we're bad,” said Wood. “We need to work as a team, we need the support. We all need to work. There’s not some place else any of us could go in January and find a new teaching position.”
Teacher C.J. Weyrich also spoke out, and said a lot of teacher were feeling “bullied by this RIF talk.” A RIF is a reduction in force, enforceable under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.
“A lot of teachers’ morale is we’re feeling threatened by administrators, a lot of teachers are leaving now because of the bad feelings,” she said. “They’re volunteering because of the pressure put on them.”
Oehlert rose to speak, to stress that he had not threatened RIFs to teachers, and the situation was calmed, for the time being.
“We are losing children and families because they’re leaving our community,” said Weyrich. “This is not personal against anybody.”