Frankfort Independent Schools will lay off eight teachers and move its alternative program into the high school next year in an effort to shave $450,000 off its budget.
Superintendent Rich Crowe announced the plan at Thursday’s Board of Education meeting.
Federal funding meant to save teaching jobs and stimulus dollars have run out. Crowe says the district has also been spending between $300,000 and $400,000 annually of its reserves to make ends meet since the recession hit.
“We just don’t have the ability to continue doing that,” he told The State Journal after the meeting.
Frankfort High School and Second Street School will lose four certified employees each, he said. It will be up to each school’s council to determine who receives a pink slip.
The district has 34 non-tenured employees who would be considered for the cuts. Their salaries total $1.3 million.
“Until those decisions are made, people are going to be on edge, and I apologize for that,” Crowe said. “But it’s what we have to do.”
Schools will also have to cut 4.5 classified positions – teachers’ aides, custodians and other workers. But Crowe says he expects enough employees will retire this year to take care of that.Tuition and fees for students will also increase, he said.
“I hate the layoff part of it – it’s not been a good four years to be a superintendent,” he said.
“You’d like to be building, but unfortunately, we’ve either had to stay the course or scale back a little bit. We’re going to have to work a little smarter and a little harder.”
Students from Wilkinson Street School will also be moving into the FHS facility to save about $25,000 in utility and transportation costs.
The alternative school’s 32 students and six staff members will occupy three classrooms on the first floor of the high school near the cafeteria.
Crowe said the consolidation would allow some WSS students who are substantially finished with therapy to attend classes that aren’t offered at their school, like art, band and music. It will also eliminate the need to transport lunch to the alternative school.
“There are ways we can make this better for all concerned, and we get to shut down the school which has outlived its usefulness,” he said.
Crowe says the arrangement will continue until a new alternative school model comes to fruition.
A task force formed by local judges has urged the Fiscal Court to act as a go-between on the construction, renovation, purchase or lease of a building to serve up to 150 at-risk teenagers from both the county and city school systems.
The programs split last March when Crowe announced WSS would no longer admit county students, citing financial constraints. The school had guaranteed Franklin County students up to 20 spots by contract.
Both superintendents had said the earliest the joint program could be up and running is the 2013-2014 school year – but that was before Franklin County Public Schools Superintendent Harrie Buecker announced she would resign June 30.
Crowe says talks between school board members and principals are ongoing, but the future of the program will depend on who is hired to replace Buecker. A decision could be made by mid-May.
The school board hasn’t decided what to do with the WSS facility, Crowe said, but it could be used for storage. The building was recently listed as the fourth-worst in terms of condition on a statewide assessment of public schools.
Crowe said FIS would be willing to offer the land as the site for the new joint alternative school.
Technology expansion funded
The school board also voted Thursday to allocate up to $70,000 to put computers in the hands of every middle and high school student next year.
School district officials must choose a vendor by March 21, said Tim Smith, chief information officer for the district. He said both Sprint and Verizon have pitched deals that include free netbooks if FIS pays for Internet access for a year.
“We believe this is going to shrink the digital divide between our students,” Smith said.
With a generous federal rebate, the devices would cost the district $131 each for the first year, Smith said. That brings the total to $52,400 for 400 computers – one for every student and extras in case of damage or theft.
Student fees of $50 each will offset about one-third of the cost. Crowe says it’s unlikely low-income students will be exempt from the fee, but they would be allowed to pay it gradually over time.
Smith says the district would also realize savings in photocopies, paper and textbooks.
District officials will now start the bigger task of training teachers to use the devices in the classroom. Crowe says some are already using technology frequently, but others are new to it.
They must also draft new policies to govern the use of the machines and work with parents to introduce the change, Smith said.
Students will be allowed to take the computers home with them, but they would have to use their own Internet connection or go to a restaurant that offers Wi-Fi if they don’t have the service at home.
They could also sit anywhere on the school grounds to connect, even if school is closed. The school’s filters that prevent kids from viewing inappropriate content would work anywhere, even if they are using their personal Internet connect.
Crowe acknowledged that some would question the purchase when the money could have paid for teacher salaries. He said the cost of the laptop initiative would decrease over time, and the benefit is well worth the cost.
“This technology is 21st century teaching and learning,” he said.
“We have to stop talking about doing it and just start doing it. It’s going to make us more efficient, it’s going to make our kids more college- and career-ready and give them marketable skills when they leave high school.”
Crowe said the initiative might also entice students from other school districts to enroll at FIS.