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Grayson plans for the worst

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — Facing more than $2 million in possible reductions to its budget, the Grayson County Public School System could be looking at double-digit position losses for the upcoming year.

While hopes are to cut those positions through attrition and retirement, school administration has prepared a policy it would follow if it becomes necessary to lay off staff.

The school system's Director of Personnel Chad Newman brought the “Reduction In Force” policy to the school board at its regular meeting Feb. 8.

The policy would go into effect if a decrease in pupil enrollment, insufficient funding, expiration of special grants and/or other conditions require modification of the educational program that results in a reduction of staff within the school division.

The policy states that all reductions would be based on the best interests of the school division and the maintenance of a sound and balanced educational program consistent with the functions and responsibilities of the school board.

Newman explained that the policy was broken into two categories: licensed (teachers, administrators, etc.) and non-licensed professionals (food service workers, transportation, clerical, etc.).

Licensed Personnel

Once staffing needs have been determined and the budget approved, the superintendent will identify programs, specific subject areas, levels and the number of licensed personnel subject to RIF.

All licensed personnel division-wide in the assignment area targeted for reduction will be ranked according to the following sequence of criteria:

• Employees on an active plan for improvement.

• Employees holding full or complete licensure or endorsement for a job assignment.

• Seniority, defined as the period of time commencing with the most recent term of continuous full-time employment in a professional position with Grayson County Public Schools.

According to the policy, if multiple employees exist within the assigned criteria, seniority will be the determining factor. If multiple employees are classified equally within that category, final determination will be made by the superintendent — except in the seniority criteria, where if two or more employees have the same length of service, they will be ranked by the date of recommendation for employment.

Seniority lists for licensed personnel will be developed for those areas targeted for reduction, with the list being divided into four major categories:

• Elementary Education Pre-K through 5

• Middle School Education 6-8 (subject area)

• Subject Areas (English, Chemistry, Spanish, etc.)

• Special Areas (special education, gifted education, administration, school counselor, school nurse, etc.)

Part-time employees will be placed on a separate list from full-time and will be considered separately.

The policy further states that a licensed employee identified for Reduction in Force will be placed on the seniority list of one other alternate assignment area if they hold an appropriate complete license endorsement for the alternate assignment.

Non-licensed Personnel

Non-licensed personnel will be ranked according to the following sequence of criteria:

• Employee evaluation documents satisfactory job performance with no active plan for improvement.

• Employee holds an industry or trade certification for their job assignment.

• Seniority, defined again as that period of time commencing with the most recent term of continuous, full-time employment with GCPS.

• Qualified non-licensed personnel may displace the least senior of the next lower pay grade if their length of service is greater than the least senior of the employees in the lower pay grade and if qualifications/skills meet job requirements.

Employment Opportunities/Recall Opportunities

Employees that are part of the reduction will be notified of job vacancies for a period of 15 months from the date of separation, according to the policy.

Recall rights will be terminated earlier if the employee sends notification in writing that they no longer desire to be considered for employment and/or if the former employee accepts another position in the division.

The policy states that a person on recall has the right to be considered for any position for which he or she is qualified.

This includes a position higher or lower than the one in which they were working at the time of the reduction, but the person on recall shall apply for the position and be considered with any other applicant.

Furthermore, no new individuals — inside or outside of the division — shall be employed for a position until qualified and eligible individuals laid off due to the force reduction are provided the opportunity of being considered for the available position.

Upon re-employment, the salary will be determined based on the position of rehire, with grade and step determined by years of experience in the position of re-employment.

Benefits

Fringe benefits and length of service will be reinstated if an employee is re-hired, but the time elapsed between release and re-employment will not count towards length of service.

Additionally, under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), employees whose positions are eliminated are eligible to continue benefits provided by GCPS's group health plan.

Qualified personnel will be required to pay a premium according to the current COBRA guidelines.

Dismissal

The policy states that the school board minutes will clearly show that the termination of an employee was due to a force reduction and will have no negative implication regarding the professional record of the affected laid-off person.

When asked by a school board member what the number of possible positions lost this year would be, Newman said he could provide a more accurate number once all the numbers were crunched.

Currently, the administration is working with proposed budget numbers, which could change and alter the amount of money the school system must cut from its budget.

Earlier in the meeting, school board members were presented with a draft Early Retirement Plan that could save the system money.

Where possible, position losses could be made up through personnel leaving the school system and those retiring, though nothing is certain yet.

Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Thomas said the school system is currently looking at double-digit numbers in terms of lost positions and, while hopes are to make those up in attrition and retirement, she offered "no assurance at this point" that it would be enough.

"This is certainly not an easy task," Thomas told the board. "We are looking at as many cuts we can make without affecting the the students' education and keep everyone's jobs in place."

The policy was presented to the board, with expectations that members would vote on it at the budget session scheduled for Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. in the board room at the courthouse.