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School district cuts programs, staff

Seven teachers will not return to work for the Brookhaven SchoolDistrict this fall after the programs they managed were eliminatedin response to revenue shortages expected next year.

Superintendent Lea Barrett said Thursday the seventh-grade techprep course, the electronics and auto mechanics programs at theBrookhaven Technical Center, the district’s Fast Track program, onereading position and the entire art program at Alexander JuniorHigh School have been terminated. The cuts were made in order tomeet state education and lawmakers’ warnings to districts toprepare for 15 percent less state funding in fiscal year2011.

“It was a very difficult decision. It was not a reflection on anyof those individuals, it was just a reflection on the programsbecoming outdated and trying to build in more academic time forstudents,” Barrett said. “We’re trying to protect the core classes,and we’ll continue to protect our student/teacher ratios.”

The school board discussed personnel and program matters in alengthy executive session last month. Letters went out to theaffected teachers this week to meet a Thursday deadline forrenewing or not renewing contracts for the coming year.

The school board acted by the April 15 deadline instead of waitingfor the next date – which comes two weeks after lawmakers finalizethe budget – in order to give departing personnel time to searchfor new employment, Barrett said.

The layoffs mark the first time the Brookhaven district has cutcertified personnel since 2003, when a handful of instructors werelet go due to a similar funding shortfall. Barrett said the seventeachers scheduled for termination would be the first notified ifnew positions within the district open up.

Additionally, 20-30 teachers expected to retire or otherwise leavethe district this summer will not be replaced next year, reducingthe number of certified personnel by around 10 percent, Barrettsaid. The number of classified personnel – like janitors andlunchroom workers – will also be reduced, and the school board willconsider furloughs sometime next year under a new state law.

“We’re expecting some more guidance from (the MississippiDepartment of Education) on that and we’ll decide if that’s anoption we need to consider,” Barrett said. “Every indicator saysnext year is going to be a very, very tight year in terms ofmoney.”

The programs and classes terminated were all outdated,underutilized or could be duplicated elsewhere. Their removalshould lead to more time spent on core academic courses, Barrettsaid.

The tech program was implemented in 1995 to foster careerdiscovery. Tech prep’s ninth-grade equivalent was terminated lastyear. The board decided to keep one class from the program -ninth-grade computer discovery – because students enrolled earnedCarnegie units, which are counted toward graduation.

“Quite frankly, the state has not updated those programs andthere’s talk of a shift in the future toward funding a vocationaltrack or vocational diploma,” Barrett said.

The electronics and auto mechanics courses at the technical centerwere “very low enrollment” programs, Barrett said, and the boardbelieves its response and intervention programs for studentsshowing poor academic performance eliminate the need for FastTrack. A new federal program will take over for the terminatedreading position.

The termination of the art program at AJHS will allow moreinstructional time in the core academic courses, Barrett said. Shesaid art classes would still be offered up through sixth-grade andin high school, making Alexander the only school without art.

“The test scores at Alexander have not been strong in math, and wethink that will allow us to put more time in the math courses,” shesaid.

While the city school district realigns for the continuing hardfinancial times, no such moves have been made in the countydistrict.

Lincoln County School District Superintendent Terry Brister saidhis board would not act until the second contract deadline, twoweeks after lawmakers finalize the fiscal year 2011 budget.

The district is also planning for 15 percent less funding, but cutsas deep as those made in Brookhaven are unlikely, Brister said. Atthis point, he doesn’t anticipate laying off any teachers.

“We’ll make adjustments with what we’ve got,” he said. “I don’tknow what we’re doing that others are not. I think the board isjust doing a great job being conservative with our money.”