The teaching jobs should be saved, students and parents told the Oak Ridge Board of Education during a special budget meeting Tuesday.
One of the teachers who could lose her job, Oak Ridge High School physics teacher Katherine Goepfert, or “Ms. G.,” has motivated students who have been in danger of dropping out, they said, and 109 students have signed a petition asking for her position to be saved.
“She’s just a good teacher,” ORHS senior Miranda Lands said. “She’s ‘busting her butt’ every day for our education.”
A few parents pleaded for the board to preserve a special education teaching assistant position at Linden Elementary School. They said their children require one-on-one attention, and they are concerned the students might struggle without that help.
But it wasn’t immediately clear if school board members would be able to reverse the proposed job cuts. They used the school system’s fund balance to pay for a few proposed spending increases on Tuesday, but it can’t be used for salaries and benefits.
School officials have said revenues could be down about $1 million in the next fiscal year and 18 jobs could be cut, including roughly eight teaching positions. Roughly six employees could lose their jobs, including Goepfert, the Linden TA, and another special education teaching assistant at the high school. Other positions could be eliminated through retirements and attrition.
Parents said a part-time speech teacher position at Linden will not be filled, and a gifted teacher position at Woodland Elementary School will be cut from four days a week to two.
One family—parents Ya Li and Tim Southern—said the schools were a contributing factor in their decision to move to Oak Ridge when Southern was hired at the Spallation Neutron Source.
Citing losses in programs and personnel, school officials said the cuts are painful and bother them as well.
“It becomes increasingly difficult for me to look that staff in the eye when, year after year, we’re looking at the very real possibility that they won’t get an increase,” Oak Ridge Board of Education Chair Keys Fillauer said.
A few suggested they could use more support from Oak Ridge City Council members.
School board member Angi Agle said the Oak Ridge City Council reduced funding for the schools by roughly $750,000 last year and doesn’t plan to increase spending for the schools this year, making the personnel cuts necessary.
The money withheld by Council members last year, which was going to be held in reserves, was related to a dispute over new revenues collected under an Anderson County sales tax increase approved in 2006. School officials had argued they can keep that portion of the new sales tax revenues that are collected outside Oak Ridge. All of that money, as well as the revenues collected inside the city, had previously been used for debt payments on the $66 million renovation of the Oak Ridge High School.
But municipal officials had argued that the county sales tax increase effectively took away money from the city, and they thought the new county revenues, including the money generated outside the city, should be used for debt repayments.
On Tuesday, Agle said school officials should calculate the amount required to save staff positions this year and then ask the city for the additional money. The school staff is expected to calculate the amount required to save the 5.8 positions that would require job losses in the fiscal year that starts July 1 and provide that number to school board members during the second and final budget reading on Thursday. That meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. at the School Administration Building on New York Avenue.
The school board is expected to present its budget to the Oak Ridge City Council meeting during a May 28 meeting, when Council will consider the municipal budget on second and final reading.
During Tuesday’s budget meeting, the school board agreed to give some employees a one-time $500 bonus, pay $50,000 to help cover the costs of hiring two new school resource officers, and restore $67,000 funding for technological needs, including software and new computers at the city’s two middle schools. The $500 one-time bonus would cover staff who will not receive a “step” pay increase in the coming year, either because they have topped out on steps or they are not on a salary schedule that includes steps. The 150 new computers are needed at Jefferson and Robertsville middle schools for online testing.
Meanwhile, the $50,000 is expected to cover about half of what school officials estimated it could cost to have two more school resource officers, or SROs, one each at Jefferson and Robertsville. That proposal does not include the cost of police cars for the SROs. The school board called the funding proposal a challenge to the city, and they hope municipal officials will match the $50,000.
“I feel very strongly that we need school resource officers in each of the schools,” said Bob Eby, Oak Ridge Board of Education vice chair. “This shows our good-faith effort to share this cost with the cities.”
The board has proposed having an SRO in every school, but the city has proposed using three. There is now one SRO in Oak Ridge, and she is at the high school.