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After failed referendum, Christina lays off 63 teachers in first round of cuts

In the wake of a failed referendum, the Christina School Board faces a series of cuts to address a multimillion dollar structural deficit.

On Tuesday, the school board took a first step, voting 4-3 for a reduction in force (RIF) of five teachers, with board members Angela Mitchell, Elizabeth Paige and John Young dissenting.

The district will also allow the lapse of 58 temporary teaching contracts, which does not require board approval, meaning a total of 63 teachers will not be returning next year.

Superintendent Richard Gregg said that the district is facing a structural deficit of $9 million.

The district was looking to cut $5.4 million in payroll expenses, and under state law, teachers losing their jobs must be notified by May 15.

“Our goal was to have the fewest number of reductions of force that we could,” he said, noting that the staffing decisions were done in conjunction with the principals. “In most staffing allocations, there were positions that would eventually not be needed and they are represented in this reduction in force.”

He noted there are also four open administrative positions that won’t be filled externally.

Beyond that, Gregg said that there will be savings in turnover from retirements and reduction of extra pay for extra responsibility, which compensates teachers for coaching freshman, club and intramural sports.

“We will have to look closely at paraprofessional needs, secretarial needs, custodial needs and look at options aligned with those,” he said.

Paige called the elimination of five teaching positions “the most uninspiring thing I’ve ever heard.”

“We couldn’t find the cost of five teachers somewhere else?” she asked.

Young urged the board to take a stand against the system by voting against laying off teachers and instead allowing the district to go into bankruptcy, forcing the state to support the district.

“I would like to see the state fix that problem because they have to, because no one has made them have to,” he said. “They tell us to go out for referendum in these challenging environments, we fail referendums, whether it’s for good or bad reasons, and then it’s ‘good luck.’ And they don’t do anything, and nobody will hold our general assembly accountable.”

While Young found support among some of the district faculty and staff seated in the auditorium of Gauger-Cobbs Middle School on Tuesday evening, other board members bristled at the suggestion.

“I took an oath when I became a board member last year that I was going to be fiscally responsible,” board member Keeley Powell said. “And I cannot in good conscience sit here and drive this place off a cliff. I can’t do it.”

In non-payroll related expenses, the district is hoping to cut $3.6 million. This would impact budgets for facilities, athletics, school and central office supplies and materials, Gregg said. A final decision on those cuts will be made later.

Board president Meredith Griffin said the board takes no pleasure in the decision, and that it “breaks my heart.”

“Not just for the five people, because I understand that there’s a name and a family that goes with each of those five people,” he said, “but also for all those who are temporary contracts.”

He added that, as the board begins more conversations on how to reduce expenses, more options could arise.

“If perhaps we find $500,000 or whatsoever other number we may be able to find, that we expeditiously move to recall in whatever process is mandated those that we have lost,” he said.

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