Budget cuts could have cost Seaford 50 teachers; State had asked districts to cut budgets by 10 percent

By Lynn R. Parks

The good news is, the Seaford School District is no longer facing a 10-percent cut in its budget. That cut, which superintendent Russell Knorr said could have meant the loss of about 50 teachers, was put to rest Thursday when the General Assembly came up with a plan to limit the state's education budget cuts for next year to $30 million. Earlier, Jennifer Davis, director of the state Office of Management and Budget, had said that the cuts would total $80 million. The state had asked school districts to come up with ways to cut up to 10 percent from their budgets for next year. But the bad news is that the Seaford School Districts, like all public school districts in Delaware, is still facing a possible three- to five-percent cut in its state funding. Seaford schools received about $28 million from the state this year. In comparison to what it could have been, a three-percent cut does not seem so bad, superintendent Russell Knorr told the Seaford School Board Monday night. "We'd love to get this down to three percent," he said. "This is still a very unpleasant situation," he added. "But it's not as unpleasant as it was a week ago." Knorr said that a five-percent cut in the district's budget would mean a loss of about 18 teachers. "We would have to cut the current staff," he said. "That could mean RIFs (reductions in force, or layoffs) "but as few of them as possible." The district might be able to achieve the cuts by not filling positions of teachers who are resigning or retiring, he added.

On top of losing the teaching positions, the district will not be able to add several teaching positions that it had planned for the next school year. "We had a staffing plan in place for 2008-2009 that we will not be able to implement," Knorr told the board. That plan included more guidance counselors for the elementary schools and a new elementary music teacher. Knorr told the board that the district's focus will be "to keep classroom teachers in the classrooms." "Not that specialists aren't important," he added. "But we can't have classrooms that have 30 students in them." By law, teachers have to be notified by May 15 whether or not they have a job for the next school year. The school board has changed the date of its first meeting in May from Monday, May 12, to Thursday, May 8, at which time Knorr will present a plan for how the district will achieve the state-mandated cuts. The change in the date will give the district time to notify any affected teachers. "I implore you at that time to approve what we present," he told the board. "We will not have time to go back to the drawing board to redo this." Knorr praised legislators for seeing the impact that a 10-percent cut in the state's education budget would mean to schools and for working to avoid that. But he criticized the state for not foreseeing budget problems and planning appropriately. "What really ticks me off is that this situation did not occur overnight," he said. "This has occurred over time." He cited several instances in which he said the state has misspent money, including buying property it did not need and printing information sheets that are of little value. "When we are looking at a shortfall, why are we spending money we don't have?" he asked.

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