The Richmond Register

May 9, 2013

Madison County Schools: Move to cut two employee contract days fails

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — After three emotional speeches, chanting and some outbursts from the audience, all five members of the Madison County School Board sat stoically as board chair Mona Isaacs called for a motion to shave two days off the school calendar.

Approval would have effectively cut paychecks for everyone in the district, saving nearly a half million dollars in personnel costs.

A few tense moments passed as not one board member offered a motion on the measure, pro or con.

Cheers erupted from the hot and crowded room when Isaacs pronounced the measure dead for lack of a motion.

In January, the district projected that it would need to pull $2.84 million from its reserve for the coming year, and had been searching for ways to whittle down that amount.

Several cost-saving options were generated at recent board work sessions. To pass, the proposal to cut two days off the calendar needed to be adopted at Thursday’s meeting because the board must ratify a school calendar by May 15.

News of the proposal to cut two days from each district employee's work year broke Tuesday as Mayfield Elementary teacher Stephanie Winkler, the newly elected Kentucky Education Association president, sent a district-wide email, calling on teachers to oppose it.

“Teachers, bus drivers, cooks, principals – everyone is here,” Winkler said before the board made the decision.

She was not surprised by how many staff came out to be heard, she said.

At the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, Winkler was honored for her election to lead KEA, but took to the podium later to show the board just how unpopular their proposal was with teachers.

She asked the audience to stand up “if you’re here for the kids,” and the entire room moved to comply.

“We are not teachers because we want to be rich. We want to be respected and valued by our district,” Winkler said.

Jennifer Howard, a parent who has had children in the district for more than 12 years, said a decision to cut two contract days would “leave our children and our core goals at risk.”

“I’ve seen how tirelessly these men and women work to ensure every child is provided individualized opportunities to be successful,” Howard said. “I understand the great financial need, but our teachers and children are not expendable.”

“To consider this as an option is a slap in the face,” she continued. “Anybody who doesn’t see that – shame on you.”

At the beginning of the meeting, Kit Carson Elementary teachers Jamie Hunter, Lydia Dargavell, Rhonda Shew Orttenburger and Vivian Bowles held up signs to let the board know how they felt about the proposal. Before the board members went into an executive session, these same teachers led the crowd in a chant, “No more furloughs!”

Bowles said it was “insulting to expect us to take greater pay cuts.”

After the motion failed, Isaacs said that the proposal was “never intended to punish or to disrespect our teachers.”

Isaacs promised that the board would listen to teachers’ ideas as they continued to seek expenditure cuts.

“We’ll be glad to sit down anytime; any place,” Madison Central teacher Steve Gillespie said after the proposal failed. “I know it’s not an easy job to fix the budget, but we should discuss what is best for kids.”

Look in Saturday’s Richmond Register for a more in-depth article about Thursday’s meeting.

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.