By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer
Akron Public Schools will lay off about 110 employees, including 84 teachers, to save about $6.3 million a year.
The district will cut about another $3.7 million a year in supplies and transportation for a combined $10 million annual savings.
The Akron school board approved the cuts Monday in a special meeting to stave off deficits projected for the 2011-2012 school year and beyond.
''We'd rather begin to act now versus waiting later and it's a larger cut, more devastating, more hurtful,'' said the Rev. Curtis T. Walker Sr., the board's president.
The vote was unanimous, although board member Jason Haas was not present.
Akron Education Association President Bill Siegferth said he didn't know the board would vote on layoffs until he was contacted by a reporter on Monday.
''I think it's tacky, I really do. I think it's a shoddy way of doing business,'' Siegferth said.
The 83 full-time and one half-time teacher to be laid off represent nearly 5 percent of the 1,850 members of the teachers union.
In the past, administrators have given the union a heads-up about potential layoffs so the board vote didn't come as a surprise, said Siegferth, who has been president since 1983 and retires at the end of the month.
''Those people knew before that board what was going to happen and they knew they were potentially on a list, they knew what their unemployment rights were, they knew what their recall rights were and that made it a lot easier on them,'' Siegferth said.
Just last week, the union was working with the district to meet a May 14 deadline on an agreement for Akron to participate in the second round of the federal Race to the Top competition.
Ohio is trying again for stimulus money geared toward enacting reforms that the Obama administration wants to encourage, after missing the first cut earlier this year. But the possibility of layoffs never came up last week.
''I guess in many respects when it's convenient to cooperate with us, they cooperate with us, and when it's not, they don't,'' Siegferth said. ''Frankly, David James knows better than to pull something like this.''
James, who became superintendent in 2008, said the unions were notified on Monday that the special meeting Monday night could result in layoffs.
''The cardinal rule has always been when our staff are sitting around talking about the budget, nothing leaves that room. The only people who get notified of that are board members who have to vote,'' James said. ''We try to keep a tight lid on the budget committee because what happens when those things get out prematurely, they can cause a lot of consternation. The board is the ultimate decision maker on whatever those cuts are going to be. I just provide them a recommendation.''
He said teachers should find out in the next week and a half or so where they stand on the layoffs. Retirements could affect the final number of layoffs, which will be by seniority.
Walker said he expects that the teacher cuts won't be across the board.
However, he doesn't want to see staffing cuts at premiere programs that attract students to the district, such as the National Inventors Hall of Fame middle school, Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts and the International Baccalaureate and arts programs at Firestone High School.
''That's your bread and butter,'' Walker said. ''Those are areas, they have a good track record. We've done well there. We've gotten students in the city, outside the city.''
However, he doesn't want to see cuts at schools the district is trying to improve, either.
''At the same time, our goal is to beef up Buchtel, beef up Ellet, beef up East so that those will be drawing cards, as well,'' Walker said.
The district will end this year with a $38.5 million surplus. That surplus will be whittled down to $32 million at the end of the next school year.
Although the first deficit year isn't projected until the 2011-2012 school year, the administration cited declining enrollment, flat local revenue, declining state revenue and a hostile environment for passing school levies as reasons to act now.
The district is negotiating new labor contracts with the teachers and other employees this year. The unions all agreed to a freeze in base pay (but not step increases for service and advanced degrees) last year.
The district may also consider building closings, freezes for nonunion employees, higher co-pays for high-salary employees and additional cuts or consolidations going forward.
The district will not seek a new levy in the fall, however, James said.