By REX WATSON
Superintendent, USD 398
What is reduction in force? Reduction in force is a topic that most of us in the education business would prefer to avoid. Reduction in force is the process of systematically reducing the number of teachers and or classified employees within a school system so that the expenses of the district do not surpass the district's revenue.
Reducing a district's work force is a painful and unpleasant task, especially in a small town, where school employees develop close relationships, become good neighbors, and become good friends. No one wants to lose their job and no one wants their neighbor or friend to lose their job.
Why does reduction in force become necessary? In most of our personal lives, our personal revenue or income is determined by our salary. Our salary may be based upon an hourly wage, a weekly rate of pay, or even a monthly amount. If we are paid by the hour, working more hours will result in a greater revenue or increased income. If we work fewer hours, however, our personal revenue or income will be reduced. When this happens, we have to reduce our expenditures in order to balance our personal budgets and stay friendly with our bankers and creditors.
For schools, our revenue or income is determined by a form of piece-work. Our budget is set by the number of students that we serve. More students in our schools means increased budget authority and a decrease in the number of students that we serve requires that we trim expenses to maintain a balanced budget.
Where and when will reduction in force affect us? Sadly, reduction in force is an impending reality for us now. Since 2003, enrollment at Peabody-Burns USD 398 has been in a steady decline with trends worsening along the way.
The district peaked in enrollment in 1998 with 496 full-time students while that number stands at 331.5 today. Over the past five years, our district has lost the equivalent of one student every 16 calendar days. From 2004 to 2006 a student left our district every 15 calendar days. From Sept. 20, 2006, to Sept. 20, 2007 our district lost an average of one student every 12 calendar days. During the first semester of the 2007-2008 school year, we have lost an additional 12 students. Fewer students result in a lower budget.
Who is affected by reduction in force? The short answer is: All of us. The local board of education is charged with the task of determining its educational goals and objectives and deciding upon cost-cutting measures that will impact the district's goal achievement the least.
The administration is charged with the task of researching projected revenues, expenses, and salaries in order to make quality recommendations to the board. Staff members wait anxiously to hear the final decisions made by the board while trying to maintain their productivity. Some members of the staff will remain on the job and others will have to change jobs, find new careers, or even relocate their families.
The community will be affected as well. Some of our friends and neighbors will lose their jobs. The economy of the community will suffer, and we will have to say goodbye to some people that we care about deeply.
The reasons for the decline in enrollment over the past several years are likely as varied as the individual students and families that have moved away.
We know that declining population in rural areas is a national trend and reversing or even slowing that trend is the subject of many interested groups across the country. While a solution to the population decline may be years away, the financial implications for our school district are immediate.
The brief format of Warrior Notes prevents me from outlining all of the specific details of the impact that declining enrollment will have upon our school budget but I would be pleased to meet with individuals or groups within the district to share further information. Give me a call at the central office 620-983-2198.