By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
Madison County Schools teachers and staff cheered Thursday night after a proposal to cut two contracted days from the school calendar died when board members declined to make a motion on the measure, either pro or con.
However, 15 educators in the district will see cuts to their salaries as the board voted 5-0 to reclassify full-time substitute teachers to para-educators.
The decision will save the district nearly $160,000, according to Dr. Kevin Hub, assistant superintendent in human resources.
“I don’t think it’s a popular move, but it’s a savings, and we’ve got to start doing these unpopular things,” board member John Lackey said before he made a motion to approve the proposal.
In January, the board adopted a “worst-case scenario” budget which projected dipping into the general fund by $2.84 million. Since then, central office staff have been coming up with cost-saving options to present to the board to make up the deficit, said board chair Mona Isaacs.
The reclassification proposal stems from an option provided by the Kentucky Department of Education to reclassify full-time substitutes to para-educators in elementary and middle schools, said Superintendent Tommy Floyd.
Passing a para-educator exam and 42 hours of college credit is the difference between a para-educator and a general aide, Hub said.
The district also uses substitute teachers who are not full-time employees and do not receive benefits, he said.
But several years ago, the district allowed elementary and middle schools to employ a full-time substitute, said Erin Stewart, the district’s community education director.
“That person was employed at a school and was utilized in many different ways by the staff at that school,” she said. For example, when teachers were called away for meetings, the full-time substitute could step in and continue the day.
“The state determined that if we were going to call them full-time substitutes” they would receive full-time benefits as well, said Debbie Frazier, the district’s chief finance officer.
“That significantly increased the salaries and the cost,” she said.
Each school is given $23,780 with which to pay para-educators, general aides or a full-time substitute, Hub said. Each school also determines how they will spend that money.
Three elementary schools chose to use the board-allocated money in other ways, instead of employing a full-time substitute, he said.
In an email to the Richmond Register, Madison Middle full-time substitute Stephanie Bowling said she got this notification from the district Monday: “In accordance with KRS.161.760, this letter serves as notification that your salary will be REDUCED by $15,260.85 for the 2013-2014 school year based upon the reduction of responsibility for FTSub duties.”
Another full-time substitute, who will graduate from Eastern Kentucky University Saturday, stepped up to the podium Thursday night to talk about what this means to her.
“I go 10 years for my education and my salary gets cut $10,000,” she said. “Five hundred dollars a month means the difference between if I’m going to make it month to month. Five hundred dollars, to me, doesn’t pay the groceries for my family for a month.”
“I would love to continue my education with someone else paying it,” she continued, taking a stab at Floyd for the tuition paid by the district for his doctoral studies. But now, she will not be able to afford to get her master’s degree, she said.
The substitute said she has been in the county system for more than 13 years and spent the last two as a full-time substitute.
“I did direct instruction in a general education classroom, special education classroom … while simultaneously dealing with behavior issues,” she said. “This is a position that requires flexibility, patience, understanding, maturity and an education.”
Para-educators cannot give direct instruction unless supervised by a certified teacher, she pointed out.
Board member Beth Brock wanted to know how schools will meet students’ needs without the para-educator or substitute.
Some principals decided to divide the $23,780 between a para-educator and perhaps a general aide position, Floyd said. But principals were aware that they would have to make plans to satisfy the duties of that position in other ways if the measure was to pass the board, he added.
Time to raise taxes?
Mayfield Elementary teacher and newly elected president of the Kentucky Education Association Stephanie Winkler became the voice for teachers Thursday night.
Tuesday, she broke the news of the proposed cuts in a district-wide email, mobilizing both classified and certified staff to attend the board meeting to protest the cuts.
But Winkler had an additional point to make: “We depend on tax money,” she said.
Winkler said she has no children of her own in the school system, “but if I know my property taxes are going to our public schools; that is an investment in the future that I do not mind paying. “
In August, the board voted to keep the real estate tax the same as the previous year, and to lower the personal property rate from 59.4 cents (per $100 assessed value) to 58.8 cents, generating the same revenue as the previous year.
During that August tax-hike meeting, eight people addressed the board in the packed auditorium; all were opposed to a tax increase, which was something Lackey pointed out Thursday night.
“This proposal came up at two budget meetings … not a single teacher showed up,” Lackey said. “There were a few central office people and some (Madison County) Tax Watch people … both of those meetings were advertised and not a single one of you showed up.”
Lackey’s comment elicited a roar from the audience, and Isaacs had to pound the gavel to regain order.
“There have been proposals that have been lobbied for before this board,” he said, such as all-day kindergarten and various special programs.
“I can vote for a tax increase in August, but will any of you be here and lobby for it?” he asked.
Lackey’s questions received a resounding “yes” from many members of the audience, while those with the Madison County Tax Watch group made indirect opposing comments.
“I will do it,” said Jennifer Howard, a parent who spoke against the calendar cuts earlier in the meeting. “I own property and I’m a community member, and I have children in this county. I am not a teacher. I am not an employee of the county schools. I would be more than happy to pay more taxes. I will support them.”
“That’s one of the things I wanted to hear from you because when we appropriated $4.6 million for a new sports complex last year we filled up the room and everybody was for it,” Lackey said. But,”when it came time to vote for the tax increase, not a single person came here to support the tax increases.”
Look in next week’s Richmond Register for a story about the search for a new Madison County Schools superintendent after Floyd leaves July 1 for a position with the Kentucky Department of Education.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.