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70 School first-year employees get RIF letters

12-month employees & those on 220-day contracts saying their days/hours could be reduced
  
King George division Superintendent Candace Brown sent out letters last week informing 76 first-year employees that they might not have a job next year. 
   70 other people who are 12-month employees, including central office administrators, and 13 employees on 220-day contracts also received letters. 
   Those letters cite possible reductions that could result, but say those positions “would remain, but at a reduction in the number of days worked and consequently at a reduced rate of pay.”
   The 159 March 30 letters are brief. 
   The version that went to first-year employees states, “Due to a substantial reduction in state funding, and an anticipated substantial reduction in local funding for the 2009-10 school year, King George Public Schools faces the possible elimination of several positions in our school system.  I regret to inform you that because of this budget crisis, you may not be employed for the next school year (2009-10).
   “Please know that a copy of this letter will be maintained in your personnel file so that it will reflect a possible reduction in force due to budget cuts.  (Reference School Board Policy GCPA-R)”
   The regulation that is referenced in the letter provides details on the procedure followed for implementing a reduction and redistribution of teacher-certificated personnel based on seniority, contract status, endorsements, and salary classification. 
   There is no regulation spelling out layoffs for support personnel, but it is presumed that similar procedures would be followed, starting with seniority.
   Under state law, School Boards must provide notice of nonrenewal of a teaching contract on or before April 15 of each year, or the teacher is entitled to a contract for the ensuing year.
   But, that notice date does not apply in the case of a reduction in force (RIF). 
We asked Brown about the timing of the letters. 
   She said, “We felt people needed to know as soon as it appeared that it may be a possibility.”  She added, “Actually, we are behind other divisions in notification.”
   But one difference with most other school systems which have provided similar notification to employees might be that those divisions are facing actual layoffs for next year, not just possible layoffs. 
   Brown’s recommended operating budget of $33,667,370 was based on maintaining all current staff positions. 
   She said she has been working closely on budget matters with county Director of Finance/Deputy County Administrator Donita Harper and County Administrator Travis Quesenberry.
   Brown could not have been unaware when the March 30 letters went out that Quesenberry’s recommended budget fully accommodated her and the School Board’s request for an operating budget of $33,667,370. 
   That proposal was presented publicly to the Board of Supervisors at a meeting on March 25, during the week prior to her letters.
   The tactic of sending out RIF letters may prove useful in rallying school employees to attend the planned public hearing on the county budget, expected to be advertised to take place on April 21.
   Along those lines, the same day Brown sent out letters, she held an open forum that evening at Sealston Elementary School, which included talk of possibly shifting people in administrative positions and eliminating the Head Start program.
   All five School Board members have publicly pledged to cut other items from the budget in order to fund Head Start, though their requested budget does not currently provide funding for the early-education program.
   Holding such forums are a tried and true action by division superintendents to rally the troops to urge such things as a tax increase, as is being done in Spotsylvania by Superintendent Jerry Hill, who has reportedly scheduled a couple of such meetings for this week.
   Brown allowed that even with letters warning of potential layoffs, recruiting for special education teachers and speech teachers is still ongoing, since teachers with those endorsements are in high demand.
   It’s unclear why first-year special education teachers were recipients of the letter citing a possible RIF. 
   Brown said, “All individuals in the database listed as first year employees received a letter.  We could have eliminated the special education teachers from the list as we will need additional special education teachers for next year.”
   The Journal inquired if she had any concern that resignations could result from the letters, compounding a shortage of Special education teachers. 
But Brown said, “All teachers know that the Board’s priority is to retain staff.  It appears they understand that this was notification just in case a way can not be found to use a combination of funds to retain positions.”

By Phyllis Cook
Staff Reporter

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