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Ladue School Board Approves District Cost-Cutting Measures

The superintendent of schools issued an apology for the way teachers who were being terminated or reassigned were notified.

Despite an apology from the district superintendent and a barrage of criticism from parents and students alike, the Ladue School Board has approved a package of budget cuts that trims the equivalent of 28 teaching positions from district classrooms.

Across the district, eight employees, including six teachers, will not be re-hired for next school year. An additional 40 employees will retire or resign; others will be reassigned, and yet others will see a reduction in the number of hours they work, according to district documents. In total, the district plans to slash about 45 positions, or ten percent, from its organizational total of 476 full-time positions.

“Every employee in the district will be affected in some way,” said Superintendent Dr. Marsha Chappelow. “Class sizes also will be affected.”

During a sometimes acrimonious meeting attended by about 250 district residents and students at , the board voted 6-1 to approve a series of administration budget recommendations designed to close a $4.8 million budget gap projected for the next school year.

The recommendations, which are not yet part of a formal budget, include staff cuts, outsourcing of some custodian services, slashing of some overtime compensation, elimination of holiday break pay for some employees, imposition of school activity fees, a small increase in the cost of meal programs, and changes to the district’s busing and transportation service. A budget for the 2011-12 academic year is to be adopted on or before June 30.

Since district personnel salaries and benefits account for approximately 80 percent of the district’s $50 million in annual expenditures, district salaries are the hardest hit in the district budgeting process, accounting for about $2.8 million in projected savings for next school year. And a handful of actual layoffs—eight according to district spokeswoman Susan Dielmann—is apparently what drove most residents and students to the board meeting.

A number of residents said they were embarrassed by news reports of pending teacher layoffs and the manner in which teachers were informed. to be given the news. About 90 Ladue Horton Watkins High School students later

“It was embarrassing to the district,” said high school student Ann Olsen. “No one deserves this kind of disrespect. This shouldn’t be how it ends for a teacher.”

District resident Lee Brotherton called the layoffs humiliating and inexcusable. Another resident said the layoff notice process amounted to a preview of “March Madness”. Resident William Goldstein said he “watched in shock and disbelief” recent television news reports of teachers being pulled from classrooms to be told their contracts would not be renewed.

“This is not the first time this administration has dealt unnecessarily harshly with teachers,” Goldstein told the board.

The board found support from others. Mark Shevitz, who served on the district’s budget task force, challenged those in the crowd to actively support a tax hike when it is proposed. In the meantime, he said the district “is trying the best it can.”

Chappelow began the meeting by apologizing for the manner in which the administration handled the layoff notifications.

“I know that people were upset and are upset,” Chappelow said. “I thought it was very important to notify those people in person, not by mail. Unfortunately, things did not unfold the way we intended. In hindsight, we could have handled things better. I apologize for that.”

That apology did not appease some in the crowd who said district leaders bungled the layoffs and could have forestalled them entirely by moving earlier for a hike in the district’s operating tax levy.

“You have failed to do your duty by going to the public and asking for an operating tax increase,” said Brotherton, who said the district’s last increase was in 1992. “There is no justification for going 20 years without one.”

Board vice president Donna Smith said that a hike in the operating tax levy is needed, but said the district must balance its budget for the next school year.

“This (budget cutting) needs to be done first, and it is a very difficult decision for everyone in this room,” Smith said, echoing other board members.

Board member Ken Smith, who voted against the budget package, agreed that the district needs to propose a tax increase, but he urged the board to make some cuts while retaining some or all teaching positions on the target list. Smith found no other board support for that position.

“I have to put my faith in the people we hire…and look at some of the reductions they’ve recommended,” said board President Sheri Glantz.

Staffing reductions will impact class size, but administrators expect that no more than three students will be added to any one class, said Dielmann.

The board also instructed school administrators to negotiate a 15 percent reduction in costs with transportation provider First Student, Dielmann said. Service cuts will include elimination of shuttles between schools, fewer late activity buses, fewer bus monitors, and an increase in some walking distances to bus stops, she added.

flyoverland March 16, 2011 at 03:44 PM
We don't need a tax increase, we need a new school board. Our boards have allowed payroll to creep up to unsustainable levels and we are paying teachers and administrators much more than other districts. Why? This board failed to heed warnings about the recession and just kept spending. They bought Westminster knowing full well that they didn't have a penny to operate it. They misled voters by saying the tax increase "wouldn't cost much". They evaded the fact that they didn't have a dime to even let it sit idle. Then they use the old story that we have the lowest tax rate. Sounds good, right? Except that they fail to mention we have the highest property values as the multiplicand of the problem. A 2.75% rate against a million dollar home yields many more dollars than a 4.00% tax rate against a $150,000 home. If you give these people more money, they will just spend it and be back again for more. This empire building needs to stop. We already send $20k per student/year. There's plenty of money. It just needs to be spent wisely. Paying employees 30% more than other teachers isn't necessary. This entire mess could have been avoided if the employees had agreed to a wage freeze like everyone else in the real world. Our employees have been getting regular raises during the recession (and even bigger ones before) while the private sector saw cuts and seniors have seen Social Security frozen. Voters cannot continue to tolerate this situation.

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