Windham – RIF (Reduction in Force) has become the buzzword of the community and throughout the school district as the administration of Windham School looks to reduce staff as they wait on the impending governor’s proposed budget. The anticipated cuts are expected to be deep and in the small district, the cuts are also being felt at the heart level. Superintendent Gregg Isler stated that he feels like the teachers, administrators, and community are pawns in the politician’s hands as they waited for Governor Kasich’s proposed budget to be announced. The budget was announced late last week which left school treasurers all over the state sending a flurry of emails and calls to the state office. Windham Schools were among the flurry as school treasurer Dawn Altman tried to decipher the figures and determine how it would affect the district.
The first hint the public had that there would be some deep cuts in the district came about three weeks ago after Superintendent Isler informed union president Wendy Bennett that there would be a RIF made at the end of the school year. Once Isler notified the union he began personally notifying each staff member that their position could possibly be eliminated at the end of the year. Like in any small town, it didn’t take long before the news had hit the streets and the town was all-a-buzz about the impending reductions. Rumors, all unfounded, began to circulate and folks began to speculate on the future of the district, with some claiming the school might close. I reiterate, the school is not closing. Although the community was taken aback by the news, many knew that with a new state administration that change was a-coming, but no one anticipated that it would be this drastic.
The administration looked long and hard trying to find away to survive and the only way was to make a reduction in staff. Isler said it was one of the hardest decisions he has had to make, however in order for the district to thrive, cuts have to be made. He cited declining enrollment, reduction in tax revenue and state funding being reduced as the primary reasons for the RIF.
The proposed reductions they anticipate having to make were announced March 23, 2011 at the regular board meeting after two executive sessions. The proposed position reductions as of March 23, 2011 are as follows: four educational aides, three general aides, one custodial/maintenance position, one bus driver, one secretary, 1?2 mechanic/maintenance position, two JR./Sr. High computer science/business department, two Jr./Sr. High consumer science, homemaking consumer education, home economics, one music position (7-12) choir, one music position, (K-12) Band, one art position,(K-12), four elementary teaching positions, one industrial arts, three special education positions, and one school psychologist. Note these are positions being eliminated, not necessarily the staff member that holds the position. Isler stated that depending on retirements and the flexibility of the state budget some of these positions maybe reinstated or partially reinstated. Two of the proposed position cuts were funded by the stimulus money the school received from the federal level two years ago. The stimulus money was only for two years and after this year that money is gone and will not be returning. Those two positions are figured in the list of RIFs.
When asked about whether they intended to cut athletic programs or go to “pay to play” he stated they had discussed it but, since the sports programs are self-supporting, they didn’t need to change them at this time. Isler also stated that if they went to “pay to play” or eliminated some athletic programs students would open enroll elsewhere so they could continue their sports career which would take more tax dollars away from the district. So for now they were not making any changes to athletics. He was also asked about whether they would be making any cuts in transportation he said they would be adjusting their transportation routes because they will reduce their drivers by one.
The specific staff members affected by the RIF are yet to be determined. Seniority, credentials, etc. will play a role in who will be kept and who will be laid off. Isler stated, “Reducing the staff by 26 1?2 is a big hit for a small district and it is more than just numbers, we are like a family and this really hurts. It has been very difficult, the last few weeks, we are a tight community and many of the staff members not only reside in the district, but are graduates from Windham and have or had kids in the school system. No one wants to see anyone lose their job but sometimes there aren’t any other options.”
Isler said he is proud of the staff because even with all the uncertainty, the staff has continued to remain professional as they carry on with their daily responsibilities throughout the ordeal. Everything has continued as it had in the past and he expects that to be the case as the situation plays out.