There were tears on both sides of South Eastern School Board's decision to eliminate 17 teaching positions Thursday.
The board voted 8-1 to accept the proposal from district superintendent Rona Kaufmann to cut the teaching staff positions as the district works to overcome its $2 million deficit.
Kaufmann has said she doesn't relish the idea of letting teachers go, but declining enrollment in recent years and a $3 million deficit have forced her hand.
The furloughs, which could save the district $900,000, will go into effect at the end of the school year.
Close to 100 people observed the board's vote during its meeting in the South Eastern Middle School-East auditorium in Fawn Grove.
Eliminated were four elementary, four middle and four high school teacher positions.
Other eliminated positions are two elementary learning support teachers and a guidance counselor at the elementary level; a dean of students at the middle school level; and a secondary technology coach at the high school level.
Prior to the vote, the board heard from several teachers who tried to convince the board to vote down the elimination proposal.
In her tearful comments, Catherine Ross, a seventh-grade learning support teacher who was on the elimination list, said the district would be letting go of dedicated people who have provided a positive learning environment for students.
These teachers are responsible for the students' educational success, Ross said.
Rick Meinl, co-president of the teachers union, said that the teachers did not create the district's financial problems and should not suffer the consequences through job elimination.
Board member Brett Barry, who voted in favor of the eliminations, said that the previous administration's "mismanagement during the good economic times" led to the district's ignoring declining student numbers and spending more money and hiring more staff than it should have.
"It's with great pain that I must support the recommendation put before the board," he said.
According to information provided by the district, student enrollment has declined 12 percent over the past six years, going from 3,292 students in 2005-2006 to 2,885 this school year.
Before casting their "yes" vote, several board members - including Jane Mueller, Karrie Strickland, Mary Hyson and Tonia Wright - became emotional while giving their reasons for voting in favor of the furloughs.
Their votes were not what they wanted to do, but what they had to do because of the district's budgetary struggles and because of their commitment to save the district money to continue to provide students quality education, they said.
"When we make a decision, we need to consider our stakeholders, the children," said Mueller while wiping away tears. "I'm not happy about my vote."
Other board members, Robert Taylor, Jennifer Tobias, and Anna Bickford, also voted to eliminate the positions.
Bickford said school budget struggles and decisions to reduce staff and raise taxes have plagued several districts in York County for years. Now, these issues have come to South Eastern, she said.
"We lost 400 students since 2006, but we gained 17 staff members," Bickford said. "Over 100 students are in charter and cyber schools, and that costs us over $1 million. Homes are decreasing in value, and that means less revenue for us. People aren't building. People aren't buying. People are leaving our district."
Board member Traci Stauffer - the lone voter against the eliminations - said the district should not eliminate positions of the people who actually teach the students.
"We have to get serious about cutting back, so this district can keep the things that are sacred," she said.
After the vote, several teachers gathered in the hallway, where some hugged and cried, while others discussed the vote.
"I'm disappointed," Meinl said. "I believe there was a better way, a better process. It's just unfortunate."
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