Despite some concerns from taxpayers and parents, the West York Area School Board voted 8-1 Tuesday night to move ahead with a proposal to study the district's professional staffing needs, with an eye toward possible furloughs and eliminations.
The proposal directs the superintendent, Emilie Londari, and the central administration team to study the district's professional staffing needs for the 2013-14 school year.
Specifically, they are asked to assess the professional needs of the district based on instructional program requirements, student enrollment and the district's fiscal situation; determine the minimum professional staffing needs of the district; and make recommendations to the board no later than April 9 about whether any professional or temporary professional staff employee positions should be reduced or eliminated.
The proposal also authorizes the superintendent to take the necessary steps to "effectuate" the terminations, and stay in touch with the solicitor throughout the process.
The lone board member to vote against the proposal was Jeanne J. Herman. During board discussion, she expressed serious misgivings about the language authorizing the superintendent "to engage in the necessary steps to effectuate the termination of employment" of professional staff employees, such as teachers.
"I thought it would just be evaluating the staff, not removing them," Herman said.
Several board members pointed out the language was vetted and approved by the district's solicitor and was included because it gives the superintendent direction as to what to do with the information the study gathers.
The superintendent's ability to make recommendations to the board about furloughing or otherwise dismissing employees would only kick in if the study finds that the district is over-staffed or if there is a need to eliminate or reduce professional staff positions.
During public comment before the vote, Shawn Halcott, district resident and parent of two children in the district, said he was "dumbfounded. You're reducing staff, but you're adding more classrooms. You're adding onto buildings. How will you staff them? I'm dumbfounded."
Lonardi stressed that the proposal is "preliminary" and that no decisions have been made.
After the meeting, the district handed out a prepared statement that quoted Lonardi as saying, "Although administration and staff have done an outstanding job of reducing operation costs, additional cuts are needed. There has been a perfect storm brewing on our financial front that is leading us to consider the elimination of programs."
After the meeting, West York Area Education Association president Gus Schulz said he has plans to meet with Lonardi next week. The teachers have been working without a contract since their last contract expired June 30, 2012. The association represents the more than 250 teachers and professional staff in the district.
"We've worked well with the board before. We're hoping for a resolution. We're concerned about the buildings and also about staff reduction," Schulz said, adding that the association is looking for a solution that protects teachers' jobs.
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