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State to BOE: cut 15 teachers

By By Paul Keane
Publisher
Just when he thought it was safe to take a breath, Escambia County Superintendent of Schools Melvin "Buck" Powell took another shot in the chest this week.
Still reeling from announced cuts in state funding announced last week, Powell learned on Monday that a new formula for determining teacher allotments will mean additional cuts in teaching positions for the 11 schools in the county-wide district. Powell said he had just about adjusted and accounted for the 14 local teaching slots that were going to have to be eliminated before next school year when the state informed him of the changes.
"This is all part of Governor Riley's across the board cuts for all state funding," Powell said. "The State Board of Education has amended the way they factor the teacher units they are going to fund next year, and we're going to have to cut between 15 and 16 teacher positions above the 14 we were already expecting to cut.
"We're looking at 29-30 teacher positions being cut next year. We just about had the 14 positions worked out, and this makes it that much harder."
The state funding cuts come at the same time that Powell is trying to get voter approval for an additional 10-mill property tax increase. He said the state cuts also include principals and administrators, but he wasn't sure how many of those positions would be eliminated. Statewide, the change in formula is expected to cut more than 2,000 teaching positions and eight principal and assistant principal positions.
The state announced this week that funding divisors were being increased, thereby raising the number of students in each class and decreasing the number of teachers and salaries. The divisors are used in a formula that calculates average daily membership (ADM), or enrollment and the amount of funding the state provides.
In a primitive example, the state would take the ADM of a school, divide it by its set divisor number and then provide the funding necessary to employ that many teachers. If the divisor were 20 and there were 100 students in a school, the state would provide funding for five teachers.
While staying under the requirements for teacher-pupil ratio, all of the county schools will be effected by the cuts and changes. The following cuts in addition to the 14 locally funding teaching units are expected to be made:
A.C. Moore Elementary is expected to drop from 19.72 teaching units to 18.58, a drop of 1.14; Escambia County High School is expected to fall from 33.99 teaching units to 32.20, a drop of 1.79; Escambia County Middle School will drop from 34.49 teaching units to 32.96, a drop of 1.53; Flomaton Elementary will drop from 25.46 teaching units to 24.04, a decrease of 1.42; and Flomaton High School will drop from 14.80 teaching units to 14.02, a drop of 0.72.
Also, Huxford Elementary will drop from 17.44 teaching units to 16.39, a loss of 1.05 units; Pollard-McCall will move from 10.55 teaching units to 9.92, a drop of 0.63; Rachel Patterson will suffer the biggest loss, moving from 38.71 teaching units to 36.09, a drop of 2.62; W.S. Neal Elementary will drop from 34.99 to 32.75 teaching units, a loss of 2.24; W.S. Neal Middle School will move from 20.25 teaching units to 19.35 units, a loss of 0.90; and W.S. Neal High School will drop from 20.28 teaching units to 19.21, a loss of 1.07 teaching units.
The loss of these teaching units are only those that are state funded. Additional units can be funded by local money, but much of that has diminished due to declining sales tax revenue and proration over the past three years.
Powell said he finds himself in a precarious position.
"I feel like the little boy who has his finger in the dyke," he said. "The only difference is that I don't know which hole to plug first, and I'm running out of fingers to plug holes with. I've got my shoes off right now and am standing in a lot of water."
While many of the locally funded positions were being handled through retirement and other measures, Powell said the additional cuts are going to be tough to handle.
"We've got to cut 15.17 teaching positions, and that's probably going to end up being 16 because how do you cut 0.17 teaching units," Powell said. "We're going to start with non-tenured teachers and look at making cuts there, but we may have to cut some tenured positions because the programs may be cut. Then, you're going to have to go to court and that is going to cost us more money.
"And the sad part is that we may have to cut some non-tenured teachers and then end up rehiring them in a year. Then they have to start the entire process over on earning tenure.
"It's a shame that these teachers have been loyal to the school system and now we can't be loyal to them because of funding cuts."