Drop in enrollment may lead to Hancock teacher layoffs

NEW CUMBERLAND – Twenty-one teachers and 33 non-certified employees may not return to work next school year because of a dramatic drop in state aid to Hancock County Schools.

The Hancock County Board of Education approved the reductions in force and transfers at a Monday night meeting in which one parent spoke out in defense of the teachers at her children’s school.

“I don’t want the school to change,” said Samara Rohbeck, 27, of New Cumberland. “I know you have to make budgets and cuts, but my daughter is doing fantastic because of these teachers.”

Rohbeck has a 6-year-old daughter in first grade and a 4-year-old son in preschool – both at New Manchester Elementary School. The self-described “concerned mother” said she and her children “love” New Manchester Elementary, so much so that her son can’t wait to start kindergarten.

Rohbeck, in sometimes emotional remarks to the board, said the quality of her children’s education could suffer if the teacher layoffs approved Monday night take effect.

“If you’re going to cut teachers or cut aides, it should be based on what they’ve done. Keep the best of the best. The best are going to get you somewhere,” she said.

Rohbeck said her understanding was that every kindergarten teacher at New Manchester was “at risk” – something Superintendent Suzan Smith could not confirm.

Both Smith and board President Jerry Durante commended Rohbeck for her concern but said they were put in the unenviable position of having to approve cuts because of a drop in student enrollment.

Between the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, the school district lost 130 students, according to the annual census taken in October. That means a loss of $644,513 in state funding for the district, Smith said.

“When you have a severe drop in enrollment, that’s going to affect your state funding,” she said.

“Those are dramatic numbers for a county our size,” Durante said.

Citing state law, Smith said the reductions she recommended were based on seniority and had to be approved by March 1.

“It goes by who is the youngest and the last one hired,” she said.

Eleven teachers were approved for reduction in force by the end of the school year, and 10 were approved for “transfer and subsequent assignment” next school year.

Smith said the latter may be reassigned as necessity dictates.

“We don’t need them in that position, but we will need them,” she said.

The board also approved a RIF for 14 bus drivers and supervisory aides by the end of the school year and a transfer, effective next school year, for 19 bus drivers and supervisory aides.

Smith said the cuts will affect the configuration, but not the number, of bus routes for those who received transfers.

“We may have to change their runs next year,” she said.

Smith and Durante said they won’t know if the layoffs are permanent until enrollment figures for next year are firm.

“There’s a strong possibility that we will be calling people back. I hope everybody,” Smith said. “Doing this now doesn’t mean we won’t be able to bring them back if our enrollment jumps up.”

But if enrollment stays down or gets lower, “we will pay a terrible price,” Smith said.

Board member Laura Greathouse, a former teacher, tried to assuage Rohbeck’s concerns by appealing to her own experience.

“We got a RIF notice every year, and every year our enrollment was adequate so that I could continue teaching,” Greathouse said. “One thing we have to do is not panic because the RIF notices go out – and keep level heads.”

In other business, the board accepted bids totalling $12,878 for the sale of four school buses, a van and a pickup truck – all declared surplus property in January.

Two vans received no bids and may have to be re-bid at some point.