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BOE to consider staff cuts

Dr. Denita Dowell-Reavis

Alexander County Schools will need to cut 22 positions for the 2024-2025 school year to stay afloat financially, according to a budget report presented by Board of Education Chair Robert Arguelles. At a special called meeting on February 7th, Arguelles said the faster the board acts, the quicker they can “stop the bleeding.”

The school system has lost more than 900 students over the past ten years. With each student the state provides about $8,500 and Alexander County in 2021 contributed $1,781 per student. The loss in enrollment is attributed to declining birth rates in Alexander County and more options for families such as private and home schools.

Arguelles said the cuts will include $453,000 in teachers, or about five teachers based on the district’s average salaries and benefits for licensed positions. The cuts also incorporate clerical, bookkeeping, data managers, social workers, and locally funded positions for a total of just short of $1.5 million dollars. 

Board member Bridgette Rhyne said she did not think cutting positions was the first option. 

“We’re not reaching out to the commissioners. We’re sitting back and just automatically cutting positions without doing anything,” said Rhyne. Of the 22 potential cuts, she asked, “We’re going to assume this without going through any other avenues?”

Arguelles said he wants the board to act first before meeting with the commission. 

“Right now, there’s nothing to talk about because nothing has been kicked off,” maintained Arguelles.

He says he was presenting the board with information before next week’s scheduled board meeting. On February 13th he hopes members will move forward on the proposed cuts. Arguelles added that board members were put in office by voters to perform. 

He said their move next week will allow superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hefner to “proceed with actually putting pencil to paper with what is necessary in order to have the necessary reductions in force to tabulate out to one-and-a-half million dollars. That’s in line with our procedure and operating procedures that we have in place.”

Arguelles said board members also need to try to replenish the $900,000 dollars taken from fund balance to meet the needs for this school year, 2023-2024.

He said he wanted to let the community know what the board’s steps are in smoothing out the budget. 

Rhyne asked why Arguelles’ projection of a reduction in force (RIF) is needed when the board hopes to sell the Old Wittenburg property. 

Arguelles said the district was in a crisis and there was no safety net. “This is not the time to continue with the standard mode, which is talking about things.”

Arguelles referred the board to an analysis of input from parents, staff, and community groups. The most frequently suggested option from the groups was to cut or consolidate positions. However, when the groups gave feedback on what they were not willing to give up, they said teachers and teaching assistants. 

According to Alexander County Schools Human Resources Director Alisha Cloer, the system employs about 740 full and part-time employees.