Superintendent's Message

Message from the Superintendent -- April 29th, 2008

Members of the Meridian Community,

I realize that there are a large number of questions that many staff and community members may have about the steps being taken to reduce staffing district-wide. There exists, in Meridian, an immediate need to align the overall financial obligations of the district and the district staffing levels that have been impacted by a combination of declining student enrollment and state budget requirements.

This week, after long and careful consultation with the school board and union leadership, I recommended a plan to the school board to reduce the district office and certificated staffing levels in the district and to align them with the funding that will be available from state, federal and local sources. As many of you are aware, there were some reductions in classified staffing levels in the 2005-2006 school year, and we will be examining the program needs within the district with regard to classified staffing as we as we move forward into the spring.

Situations such as these are never easy. We value deeply the contributions that every member of our district team makes to the education of our children. During Thursday and Friday of last week, efforts were made to speak directly with those staff members who may be impacted by these reductions. At this point the school board, in compliance with state law and the local bargained agreement, has adopted a very specific protocol by which the reductions will impact the overall staff in Meridian. This means that employees whose contracts are "retire-rehire" and "leave replacement" will be impacted first. Based upon specific provisions in the bargained agreement, employees whose status within the district is "provisional continuing" would in most cases be impacted before "tenured continuing" employees. These last two areas are a bit more specific and do involve a very specific and technical interpretation based upon the current assignment of each employee and their qualifications.

These staffing reductions, the first of which was to reduce staffing in the district office, will take place at every location in the district. Every effort possible is being made to maintain the level of programing for our students in Meridian. The school board has been very insistent that I consider very carefully the impact that these measures will have on both children and staff. While we have experienced a very modest increase in the number of children attending our home school outreach program, our numbers in Meridian for our "core program" (IRPS, TMCE, MMS and MHS) have declined by 44+ students this school year over last. We are projected to decline a further 32 students or more in the coming year. These enrollment declines on top of declines in the "core program" in previous years have created a situation where the staffing of the district must be carefully examined and adjusted.

Sometimes positive steps have unintended impacts as well. The very positive Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) that was provided, but only partially funded, by the state to all employees as well as a required three percent increase to all retirement contributions by the district has created a very large financial impact on Meridian and every other district in the state. The result of enrollment decline, Non-Employee Related Costs (NERCS) and the current staffing levels has created a shortfall of two hundred thousand dollars in the 2007-2008 budget that we have been working diligently to close with very careful and frugal attention to expenditures. The additional impacts of COLA and retirement, in addition to loss of PAS dollars will result in an addition two hundred-sixty thousand dollar obligation that the district must now cover. On top of those factors, diesel fuel for our buses has increased by over thirty-five percent and we will likely be dealing with further increases in utilities and other NERCS. In total, the approximate impact of the current budget situation in Meridian approaches half-a-million dollars.

We are making steps to modify every aspect of the overall district program to realize cost savings before we impact staffing levels. These steps include adjusting schedules and looking at how we can be more efficient in our day to day operations in schools and work sites.

Even with all of the challenges that we face, I am hopeful that we can emerge from this very difficult situation with a renewed focus on student learning. I am hopeful that as we get further into spring there may be some movement within our overall staffing picture that might allow us to minimize the impact of the current reductions on staff positions. As we move forward through May and June It is my earnest hope that we can keep our overall district focus on the learning of our children as we work through this process. Again, I know how difficult this situation is for our staff, community and students. I appreciate your time to read this information and to consider its content. If any of our district team have questions I would encourage you to follow up at the district level. I want you all to have factual information as answers to any concerns or questions you might have.

I very hopeful that we will emerge from this tough time in the most positive way possible. Thanks again for your understanding.