Local school districts maintain reduction in force plans

All four Jefferson County school districts have reduction in force plans in place to eliminate staff positions in the event that a large drop in student enrollment causes a financial crisis.

To date, each district has relied upon attrition, which allows for the reduction of staffing levels through leaving vacant positions unfilled.

The White Hall School Board made some adjustments to its RIF plan at its regular monthly meeting this month that Superintendent Larry Smith said were necessary to keep the plan within state guidelines.

“We are fine tuning our RIF plan,” Smith said. “One of the things we are adjusting is the number of days employees are required to work in one year. In its last regular session, the state legislature changed the length of time you have to work during a fiscal year from 120 days to 160 days for classified personnel. The change for certified personnel dealt with part-time employees. If we were to implement the RIF plan and it came down to a part-time employee or a full-time employee being laid off, the new regulation says that you can’t bump the full-time employee even if they were hired more recently than the part-time employee.”

Smith said that the new certified measure only impacts one employee in the district at present.

Smith said that through attrition the district has been able to cut 16 certified positions and five or six classified positions.

Watson Chapel School District Superintendent Danny Hazelwood said that his district has its RIF plan in place as well.

“We’re not to the point where we actually have to look at who the last hired is,” Hazelwood said. “We lose enough due to retirement and people resigning to kind of take care of it. We have a lot of older staff who are gradually retiring.”

“Whenever someone retires, we evaluate whether or not that position needs to be refilled,” Hazelwood said. “We just have to make sure that our student-teacher ratio is such that we can take up some slack by not advertising for an open position when someone leaves the district.”

Hazelwood said that leaner times create the need for expectation adjustments.

“In the school business, there is a thought process that the smaller the class size per teacher the better off you are,” Hazelwood said. “Teachers and parents strive for smaller classes but the economy sometimes doesn’t allow for that.”

Pine Bluff School District interim Superintendent Linda Watson said that the district is evaluating its RIF policies.

“We are looking at updating our RIF policies for classified and certified personnel and will be working with their representatives,” Watson said. “Right now we are able to adjust staffing with attrition.”

Dollarway School District Superintendent Frank Anthony said that his district also has its RIF plan in place.

“When you are looking at tight budget situations you have to bring the number of staff in line with student enrollment,” Anthony said. “We are tentatively scheduled to take a close look at the situation in February.”

Anthony said that the coming spring will be his first opportunity as superintendent to make staffing decisions for the following academic year.

“Certified personnel must be notified by May 1 of their hiring status or they will automatically be hired for the next school year,” Anthony said. “Classified personnel must be notified of any hiring decision 30 days before the end of their contract.”