100 Collier school district positions to be cut due to budget crunch

Collier County superintendent Kamela Patton

Photo by GREG KAHN, Naples Daily News

Collier County superintendent Kamela Patton

In an effort to help balance its budget, Collier County Public Schools will eliminate 100 positions districtwide this year, including music, physical education, and art teaching positions.

Collier schools Superintendent Kamela Patton said the cuts will save the district about $6 million. In addition, the district will present $10.5 million in non-position cuts to the School Board at next week’s regular board meeting.

The district hopes to use $3 million to $4 million in reserves rather than the $19 million it originally projected to balance the 2012-13 budget.

Patton stressed that the cuts are positions, not people.

“We’re not notifying specific people at this point,” she said.

Instead, district officials are speaking with people in affected departments, like media specialists.

No core subject teaching positions, such as math, English or science, will be eliminated, Patton said. Districtwide, about 20 arts teaching positions will be cut, along with about 50 other school positions, she said. Those with seniority will have priority in keeping their positions.

The Collier school district has about 6,000 employees, about half of which are teachers.

Cal Boggess, president of the Collier teachers union and a middle school media specialist, said losing the second media specialist at the high schools will be a disservice to students.

The cuts in non-instructional personnel, like school aide positions, will hurt schools more than the district realizes, he said.

“They’re the backbone of the schools,” he said. “We need to find cuts elsewhere.”

About 30 of the 100 positions cut will come out of the central office and central support staff like maintenance directors, secretaries, and teacher specialists, Patton said. Two administrator positions will be eliminated. The central office positions alone will save the district around $1.2 million.

The number of students in elective classes will increase from 18 to around 24 to accommodate fewer teachers.

“Remember, seven years ago we had 36 students in that room,” Patton said. “It’s not something outrageous.”

School Board member Pat Carroll said as long as programs like music and art are still offered, she will be satisfied. Complying with the state-mandated class size amendment means that those subjects that don’t have a size cap will receive the brunt of the cuts, she said.

“I don’t think we can avoid it any longer,” Carroll said. “We’ve done a really good job up until now.”

Carroll, who has served on the board for 10 years, said this could be the most emotionally difficult budget for her to approve since she was elected in 2003.

“It’s one thing to know you have the option of keeping certain programs that are important to the overall vision,” she said. “But at this point, we don’t have that option.”

After Patton was hired in June as superintendent, she did a major reorganization of principals and eliminated two top administrative positions. Patton doesn’t anticipate more cuts this year but didn’t rule it out for future years.

Many of the employees affected could be absorbed back into the district, she said. If they have the proper certification, some could be rehired as core subject teachers. Patton said each year, the district hires around 200 new teachers to fill positions of those who retire or leave.

“Our goal is to not bring in folks from outside if we have internal folks that can fill that position,” she said.

The 100 position cuts come after the district already proposed that teachers will not receive a salary step if the district projects a three year deficit. The union and district discussed the proposal at Tuesday’s negotiating meeting but the union has yet to make a counter proposal.

The position cuts and budget reductions will be presented to the School Board regular board meeting at 4 p.m. on May 8, at the district administrative center. If the budget is approved, Patton said administrators and principals will continue to notify those affected.

She said this decision is difficult for everyone in the district.

“Reductions hurt for all of us,” she said.

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