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Normandy schools may lay off more than 100 employees

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 23, 2013: More than 100 teachers and staff members in the Normandy School District may be laid off for the second semester and Bel-Nor Elementary School may be closed as the district works to close a multimillion-dollar hole in its budget.

At the first of two meetings held Wednesday, teachers were told this morning that 103 employees were likely to be laid off. Details of the plan are scheduled to be presented to the Normandy school board at its meeting Thursday night.

The issue is listed as an action item on the board’s agenda, but it was not clear whether board members will vote on the plan this week or at a meeting in November.

Judy Davis-Edwards, head of the Normandy branch of the Missouri-National Education Association, told the Beacon that she understood that teachers who were going to be laid off would learn their fate Nov. 14, the day after next month’s board meeting. The future of Bel-Nor might also become clear then, she said.

Besides the possible layoffs, another agenda item at Thursday night’s meeting is listed as an “Early Separation Incentive Program” for staff members – terminology generally used for buyouts for employees who want to retire early. It was not clear whether having enough Normandy workers take early retirement would affect the number of layoffs.

Daphne Dorsey, spokeswoman for the district, said no details of either the layoffs or the buyouts would be available before the meeting Thursday night, scheduled for 6 p.m. at Normandy High School.

She said the district has about 600 employees. The state's school directory says Normandy had 339 teachers this school year.

Graylon Brown of the Missouri-National Education Association regional office, told the Beacon that according to the district's collective bargaining agreement with teachers, layoffs would occur predominantly based on seniority, though that process may be modified if there are specialized areas where the district needs teachers.

Similarly, he said, if Bel-Nor is closed, teachers there may be able to replace teachers at other schools who have less seniority with the district.

Since the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously upheld the law allowing students in unaccredited school districts to transfer to nearby accredited schools, the financial future of Normandy and Riverview Gardens – the area’s only unaccredited districts – has been bleak.

Because students’ home districts must pay tuition and in some cases transportation costs for transferring students, the sending districts are facing bills estimated to be as high as $35 million this school year. Education officials say Normandy is likely to go broke by March because of the costs for the 1,000 students who have transferred.

The state board of education has voted to ask the General Assembly for an additional $6.8 million to help Normandy make it through the year. That request will be taken up in January, when lawmakers are also expected to begin reviewing possible changes to the transfer law.

In Kansas City, the state’s only other unaccredited district, transfers have not occurred while a lawsuit on the issue works its way through the legal system. The Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments in the case earlier this month.

This week, the state board of education declined to take a vote on a request from Kansas City schools to be upgraded to provisional accreditation because of their score on this year’s school evaluation. State education officials have said they want to see sustained progress before recommending any change in the district’s classification.

The possible layoffs in Normandy come more than four years after similar action in the north St. Louis County district. Then, more than 80 district employees, including 45 teachers, lost their jobs in January 2009. At that time, the district said the staff reduction would save $1.6 million.

At the end of the following school year, Normandy absorbed the Wellston School District, which was dissolved by the state. In September 2012, Normandy lost its accreditation, as of Jan. 1, 2013.

Budget cuts are also possible in the Riverview Gardens schools, which have lost 1,200 students to the transfers.

Tuesday night, its special administrative board heard proposals for a $3.5 million reduction in the current school year, including the reduction of 15 jobs currently unfilled that would remain vacant, and another $2.8 million in cuts next year, with 10 more unfilled jobs abolished.

Savings in other areas would add to the total of budget reductions.

Before the transfers took place, the district had projected a fund balance of $13.1 million next year down from $18.6 million in the current year. Because of the costs of the transfers, without any budget cuts, the balance was projected to be $3.6 million this year, with Riverview Gardens shifting to a $16.9 million deficit next year.

Even with the budget cuts, if the transfers continue district officials estimate this year’s balance to be $7.1 million, with a deficit next year of a similar amount, $7.1 million.

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