School board cuts six staff positions

Staff Writer

Even with as many as six retirements and another two resignations, the West Point Consolidated School District is eliminating six teaching positions because of declining enrollment.

The school board approved the cuts Monday night and the teachers will be informed "very soon" so they can begin looking for new jobs, Superintendent Burnell McDonald said.

The reductions, which have been in the works for weeks, are in several different grade levels, reflecting uneven changes in the district's enrollment in recent years. Eliminating the positions will save the district about $300,000 a year and should be enough to offset potential reductions in state funding once the Legislature completes 2018-19 budget negotiations.

Repeating what he's said in the past, McDonald reiterated the district no longer can afford to carry positions that "simply aren't warranted" given the enrollment figures.

The district has to notify teachers by April 15 whether their contracts will be renewed, but McDonald said the six positions being eliminated would be told well before then.

"The letters are being drafted now," he said, adding, "I hate for them to think it was about performance. This simply is a matter of numbers."

The district has about 325 teachers, counselors and administrators and another 175 non-certified staff.

Since the West Point and Clay County districts were forced to consolidate in July 2015, enrollment in its seven schools has dropped more than 6 percent from 3.270 to 3,057 this year, according to the state Department of Education. The current number may be lower because districts tend to lose students as the year goes on.

McDonald said preliminary estimates for next year show another decline.

In the past, the district has tried to avoid staff reductions to keep pupil-teacher ratios down and keep as many teacher assistants and other support staff with teachers as possible.

"As enrollment continues to decline, we just can't keep taking on those extra positions, especially if the state isn't going to provide funding. And we can't put anymore on the taxpayers. We can't go to that well and ask for more local money, we can't justify it any longer," McDonald said previously.

According to state figures, West Point's enrollment changes have been mixed, even if downward overall.

From last year to this year, enrollment fell in kindergarten, first and second grades, was up slightly in third grade, down in fourth, up slightly in fifth and sixth, and down in seventh, eighth and ninth.

Three straight years of declines in the youngest grades are part of what prompted forecasts of continued lower enrollment.

The district, which spends an average of $8,742 per student and has a 'C' rating on the state's grading system, may not know its state funding until next month.

"Barring something serious from the Legislature, we should be able to handle our budget with these reductions," McDonald said.

In other Monday night, the school board:

-- Made adjustments in its salary schedule for next year with most of the changes come in salaries for the district's assistant principals. "We are trying to get in the ballpark with surrounding school districts. We are way out of line with others, especially at the secondary level with extra curricular activities," McDonald said.

The changes average $6,000-$7,000 per position.