May 22, 2013 - By Meg Peters
Review Staff Writer
Twenty-seven Lake Orion teachers were given layoff notices this week although officials said some may be brought back.
Superintendent Marion Ginopolis said she would hire 99.9 percent of them back, but due to budgetary issues for the upcoming year, layoffs were necessary for now.
"I'm sure teachers are going to be coming back," Ginopolis said.
Six high school teachers, five middle school teachers, and 16 elementary teachers were officially laid off Wednesday night at the Board of Education meeting. The teachers were notified last week.
Layoffs were due to many factors including a declining enrollment, the district's $4.2 million deficit, and state reforms that cut state funding by $470 per student. Due to the cuts, Lake Orion has received $7.2 million less over the past two years.
Teachers comprise the largest portion of the nearly-$80 million budget. If none of the 27 were re-hired, Lake Orion Schools would save about $2.1 million, or about half of the $4.2 million deficit.
"However, we anticipate that we will be calling back some of these teachers so it's really hard to say how that will happen," Ginopolis said.
A portion of them could be called back by next fall if a teacher severance incentive and Schools of Choice programs generate interest and students.
For the severance incentive—which rewards typically veteran teachers to voluntarily resign, saving positions for novice teachers—the school board hopes to interest 20 teachers in order to make the incentive financially sound.
"We do believe, however, that the numbers work if we have 15 or slightly fewer, especially if they come in areas that would be most beneficial to district staffing needs," Larry Lobert, assistant superintendent of human resources, said.
The window to apply for the incentive closes Friday, with a seven-day legally-mandated period for a teacher to change his or her mind.
"It's likely that [layoff] list could shorten, but being as long as it is, I certainly wouldn't pretend that that the whole list is going to get called back," he said.
By June 7 the official number of teachers taking the incentive will be known, and whether the severance option is viable for them.
The district is also waiting on applications for the Schools of Choice program. The application window began May 13 and extends until June 11 for outside students and their families to apply.
"Numbers are just starting to come in, so I don't know what those are yet. We can only keep the window open for 30 days, so we've had a big push," Ginopolos said. She helped to spearhead the program.
The Lake Orion SOC promotional material is advertised in newspapers, marketed on signs along highways, sent out in mailers, and posted on the school website to generate applications.
The board estimated 172 openings for students K-2 and 15-20 Learning Options students at the March 27 board meeting. These students would bring their state funding to the Lake Orion district.
It would require a great number of students accepted into the SOC program, however, to hire back some of the teachers.
"We are going to efficiently staff first," Lobert said. "You want to use class size wherever you can to create an appropriate number up to the caps, and you fill up first, so it doesn't necessarily immediately mean you are going to be adding staff. It could, if we had a very, very large number."
Both Lobert and Ginopolis assured some portion of the teachers would be called back by fall after the numbers came in for these programs.
While teachers saw the largest amount of cuts, the district is still looking at further adjustments to additional staff—whether restructuring positions, reducing hours or further cuts—before the June 12 board meeting.
"Nothing of this scope. We are looking at an efficiency here or ther," Lobert said.
Ginopolos stressed that it isn't only people that are being examined, but also operational tactics. The district has made a number of efficiency changes. Teachers are instructing with different operations, among other changes, to eliminate and avoid costs. This allows better efficiency to instructional programs.
"That's key for me," she said.
Despite the loss in teachers, there will be no loss in curriculum, but some classes may be larger. .
"There are a few areas where there were duplications in programs, so we eliminated that duplication, and we are really pushing class up to maximum size. We have no expectation to eliminate curriculum," she said.
The district is hopeful for a larger enrollment next year, even without SOC.
"With the economy somewhat improving, and the trend we see in housing around here, I certainly hope you'll see people trickling in even if we didn't have any of these other things going," Lobert said.
The district might also have to dip into their fund equity of about $8.8 million. That is 11 percent of the $80 annual budget, with ten percent being the state recommended level to pay monthly costs as well as be available for emergency expenditures.
"Typically to teachers and union employees, they would say 'oh we need to dip into the fund equity, this is what we should be doing, this is the rainy day that the money is there for,'" said Jeffrey Faber, president of the Lake Orion Education Association. "But all of us are pragmatic here and we have no faith that the money is going to be there down the road, so we have to play it safe now. The association understands that."