Falls cuts teaching staff

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Budget deficit projected for 2016-17
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About a dozen teachers in the Oconto Falls School District were issued nonrenewal notices earlier this month, as the School Board addressed a projected $430,000 budget deficit for the 2016-17 school year.

“As an organization right now we’re experiencing some very difficult decisions,” Superintendent Dean Hess said.

The decisions are just going to get harder, with a $1 million deficit projected for the 2017-18 school year when a three-year referendum expires. This referendum, passed in 2014, brought in $400,000 in tax revenue for one-to-one technology for students, roof repair and personnel expenses.

The nonrenewals were issued only to certified teachers — for budgetary reasons, not performance issues, Hess emphasized. The School Board acted upon the nonrenewal notices in executive session on March 14 and is scheduled to issue final nonrenewal notices in open session on April 11.

The number of nonrenewals could change, depending if other teachers decide to resign or retire. The School Board in February approved a retirement incentive of up to $10,000 for eligible teachers, and Hess said several teachers were interested in the option.

Hess said the district’s administration has a history of fiscal frugality, basing decisions on how students will be the least affected.

“We cut back in as many areas as we could outside the classroom,” he said. “We’re now recognizing we cut back a little more than we could afford to.”

He said the district is experiencing shortfalls in some budgetary areas and is looking to fund new initiatives, such as tech mentors. The School Board approved extracurricular assignments for 10 teachers for the 2016-17 school year to serve as mentors for colleagues, helping them integrate technology into their classrooms.

The board has already approved six retirements and resignations, effective at the end of the current school year: Lou Hobyan, Washington Middle School principal; Charlie Rochon, high school special education teacher; Linda Hougas, sixth-grade math teacher; Catherine Kellogg, part-time hearing impaired teacher; Amy Root, high school science teacher; and Geoffrey Root, high school math teacher.

Rochon, president of the Oconto Falls Education Association, said Oconto Falls is like many rural school districts struggling financially, as state funding is reduced and districts rely more on the electorate to support a referendum.

“It’s unfortunate education has come to this,” he said.

He said employee morale is “not really good,” because the nonrenewal of longtime co-workers and friends affected the staff deeply. He said students also are affected.

“In the long run, you’re going to see an effect on the students because you’re going to see much larger class sizes,” he said.

A reduction in the tech ed department, for example, is one example of the negative effect on students, who in the past have graduated from this program with skills needed for a career or technical school, he said.

“In those areas, you can’t cram 25 students in the shop,” Rochon said.