District addresses impending budget shortfall, approves cuts in staff

SHERIDAN – The Sheridan School Board last week approved a reduction in force for physical education and school counseling based on accreditation standards as the district faces an minimum approximate shortfall of $30,000 for the 2013 school year.

The shortfall is due to declining enrollment in the Sheridan School District in addition to a two percent increase in expenses. The criteria for the RIF process is based upon certified teacher seniority and state accreditation standards.

Board trustees Mike Berry and William Wood worked with the school administration as well as the Sheridan Federation of Teachers Union to negotiate the RIF. District Superintendent Kim Harding said the board must adopt the RIF approved by the Sheridan Federation of Teachers Union as well as approve the criteria for the RIF because of a strict timeline based on state law as well as the Sheridan Federation of Teachers Union.

“When you go through a RIF process you have to use criteria to know what you’re going to use as your gauge,” Harding said at the school board meeting March 13. “What we feel is the best in this case after talking with the union is to use certified teacher seniority and the accreditation standards.”

Harding explained that the state accreditation comes down to what classes and programs the district needs to offer as a school to be accredited. Certified teacher seniority is based on who has been teaching in the district the longest.

Some of the reductions include four class periods of physical education, which would still leave five periods of PE, as well as a reduction in the school counseling program and changing the school’s Montana Digital supervisory staff from certified to classified.

The RIF is based upon projected numbers for the May 8 school election that will ask voters to elect two trustees for the elementary and high school district for a three-year term and one trustee for the high school district for a three-year term. The ballot will also ask district voters to approve mill levies to support the school. The district is seeking support for 22.19 mils for the elementary school, which generate more than $67,000, and 4.6 mils for the high school, which will bring in about $18,376 more in tax revenue.

Should district voters not pass the mil levies, Sheridan Public Schools will face a shortfall much greater than $30,000, said Sheridan District Clerk Linda Walter at the meeting.

School counselor Laurie Bartoletti said while nobody wants to see reductions in force, they must accept the fact that the district enrollment has declined in recent years.

“I think the teachers are at the point where we would rather do this than trying to raise money and fundraisers,” Bartoletti said. “Now we really see more of our work as helping the mill levy pass so we can really retain our programs and extra curricular activities.”

Board chair Jeffrey Marsh added to Bartoletti’s concerns, explaining that there is no easy solution to the budget shortfall.

“I think we tried to do this thoroughly with the staff and trustees to participate in what we hope is the best of the worst situation,” Marsh said. “We’ve got to hope the mill levy passes.”

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