SIDNEY – Sidney City Schools Board of Education voted to nonrenew the contracts of 68 instructional aides and five IT staff members when they met Monday night via YouTube.
The reduction in force (RIF) of staff was impacted by three major factors – the district is and has been trying to reduce deficit spending, the emergency operating levy that was on the March 17 Primary ballot did not pass, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We reduced some of our staff at the end of last school year by reconfiguring our schools and moving the alternative units from SAS to individual buildings,” said Sidney Superintendent Bob Humble. “That helped cut costs by over $1.2 million but we knew at the end of last year that we would be cutting more.”
To this point, the district has stretched dollars as far as possible without making cuts that would erode educational quality through a number of efforts, including:
• 2019-20 staff reductions totaling $1,260,000 a year
• Transitioning to a high deductible health plan only by calendar year 2022, saving the district an average of $300,000 per year
• Procuring cost-saving contracts for energy, buses, equipment, and supplies through the Southwest Ohio Educational Purchasing Council, a purchasing co-op with other school districts
• Comparing prices from vendors to ensure we are taking advantage of the best prices
• Completing as many maintenance projects as possible which improve energy efficiency for long-term operating savings; by replacing maintenance staff with skilled professionals in HVAC, plumbing, and electrical trades, the district has contracted less with outside service providers.
Additionally, administration has looked at programs and services used educationally to maximize efficiency and fiscal responsibility.
Even with all of those cost-saving measures, said Humble, the school board and administration knew staff would have to be trimmed even if the emergency levy passed, and at the end of last year, all aides were notified that more reductions would be necessary over time.
While the district is still hopeful to pass the emergency operating levy in August 2020, the board and administration were already starting the process of trimming more staff. And then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, he said.
The impact of COVID-19 on education from a state level has accelerated the district’s course to reduce the number of classified staff. Financially, the result of the pandemic has been a loss of $650,000 for just this fiscal year, which represents the 2019-20 school year. Treasurer Mike Watkins is anticipating the loss of another $1-2 million next year.
“So not only are we trying to curb our existing deficit spending, we now have other external forces negatively impacting our cash flows,” said Waktins.
Humble said the district had a very successful year with preschool with more than 275 preschool students enrolled. While preschool is free for those with a disability, others enrolled pay a monthly tuition on an income-based scale. That tuition is additional revenue for the district. Because preschool is vastly different from the K-12 learning environment, even though teachers and therapists were providing learning activities and resources during the time off, the district did not collect tuition. That impacted the district with an additional loss of $17,000.
Under Ohio Revised Code 3319.08 and 3319.081, school districts are required to continue paying both teaching and nonteaching employees when the schools in which they are employed are closed to such employees due to an epidemic or other public calamity.
“One thing that has been interesting in all of this is that the Ohio Revised Code actually requires us to pay our staff during time off,” said Humble. “During the entire shut down, our support staff has been utilized as much as possible – handing out lunches, helping with chromebook and hot spot distribution, gathering and distributing personal belongings from lockers and desks, and even helping with maintenance projects like painting classrooms and hallways.
“Decisions like the non-renewal of staff due to reduction in force are not easy,” said Humble. “On the side of the employee being non-renewed, it can feel very personal, like they aren’t valued. Anyone who works in a school knows that support staff are important and teachers, administrators and students alike most certainly value them.”
The district anticipates bringing some aides back — when and how many — will depend on what school will look like in the fall. The board and administration are hopeful to have a better picture of what the start of the next school year will look like sometime in June with the hope to act on hiring some aides back as soon as possible, said Humble.
“We know that we will be bringing back some aides. There are some aide positions that are necessary including in the preschool and multiple disabilities classrooms,” said Humble. “How many we hire back and when will be dependent on what school looks like in the fall. There are so many factors at play.”
This is one layer of the district’s attempt to curb the deficit spending, said Humble. The goal is to reduce the district’s expenses by $3 million. The reduction of the aides by at least 35% will reduce expenses by approximately $1 million annually. More cuts will need to be made and the district is continuing to look for ways to chisel down expenses.
The district will receive a one-time payment of $652,600 through the CARES Act. However, $76,623 of that must be allocated to the local non-public schools (Christian Academy, Holy Angels, and Lehman Catholic High School). It is not anticipated that the district will receive any additional revenue from the CARES Act.