School District’s plan to cut $6 million, save teachers could hinge on union

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – Facing a $6 million budget shortfall next year, the School District is hoping to reach an agreement with the teachers’ union that could free up $3 million the district could use to spare 53 teachers from the budgetary ax.

Without one agreement, Deputy Superintendent Michael Degutis told the School Board, the district could lose its Music and Art program and Media Specialists.

That agreement is what the district is calling “Workday and Workyear,” which would focus on elementary schools.

The agreement would require teachers at the elementary schools to plan their school day outside of class time.

Jody Idlette Bennett, executive director of curriculum, told the board that the plan would allow the schools to cut their schedules by 35 minutes and would provide 45 minutes either before or after school for teacher planning.

She added that if the union were to not approve the agreement, the district could lose 13 special area teachers – teachers who lead art and music classes.

Bennett also explained to the board that the suggestion for cutting such classes came from the school level, from the principals at the elementary schools.

Each elementary school was asked to cut its budget $100,000, Bennett said, adding that the principals wanted to be sure that all the elementary schools made the same type of cuts.

One scenario that was considered included music and art but cut physical education. The other scenario kept physical education but cut music and art.

“This came from within,” Bennett said.

The district is proposing three agreements with the Indian River County Education Association (teachers’ union). Individually, the agreements could save the district between $438,000 and $1.8 million.

Along with the Workday and Workweek agreement, the district is proposing an Accomplished Educator agreement that could result in a $1.8 million savings, sparing 32 teaching positions.

That agreement would ask the union not to pay a bonus to teachers who earn an exemplary rating on their evaluations. The bonus is the equivalent of 5 percent of the teacher’s base pay.

The positions spare could include 26 special area teachers and six non-core teachers.

The third proposed agreement, called “Differentiated Pay,” could save $438,584 – the equivalent of eight non-core teachers.

The IRCEA has heard a presentation from the School District on the “Workday and Workyear” agreement, but has not discussed it or the other agreements with the district as of yet, Degutis told the School Board.

Along with discussing the agreements, the School Board also talked about ways it could help curb costs.

School Board member Carol Johnson suggested the board cut its travel budget by a third.

“I think that sets a tone” for the district, she said.

She also recommended that the board’s executive assistant be cut back to a part-time position with benefits. Given the “digital age,” Johnson said it should be possible for board members to take care of their own schedules.

Johnson also suggested eliminating the deputy superintendent position, which is currently held by Degutis.

Johnson told the board that she is only looking at positions, not the people in those positions.

“This is a tough side of the table to be on,” Johnson said.

The School Board plans to have a private, executive session later this week to discuss further the proposed agreements with the union and another budget workshop next Tuesday, April 26.

Workshops are open to the public, though public comment is not permitted. The workshops are televised live on Comcast Channel 28.

A seventh workshop could be held May 3, if needed.

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