Each year, before spring break, the Pocahontas County Board of Education central office and superintendent Terrence Beam must work together on a budget for the next school year.
Part of that work is to determine if there is a need for RIFs [Reduction in Force] or transfers.
The dreaded “RIFing season” is a time when Beam and his staff focus on the needs of the schools and where cuts can be made, if they are needed.
“Reduction in force occurs when you determine that you can do without a certain position,” Beam explained. “We try to do it through a retirement or transfer. When somebody leaves our county to work somewhere else or do another job, we look at that position and we try to decide, ‘can we do without this position?’
“We try very hard not to reduce in force anyone who wants to continue to work,” he continued. “Sometimes, we have to. This year, we’re going to be very, very fortunate. We reduced several jobs through retirements and resignations.”
When a teacher retires, for instance, from a fifth grade position, Beam and the staff see if they can fill that position with a teacher from another classroom, so instead of hiring a new teacher, there is a transfer. Then, instead of replacing the person who transfers, they see if that position can be abolished.
Sometimes, the positions are not filled and are abolished because they are not needed at that time, therefore the board is able to save money for a “rainy day” fund.
“If we can do without a position, it helps us build our budget back up and protect our budget from things that come up during the school year that we have to spend money for, like roofs or furnaces or water lines – things we don’t have money in the budget for,” Beam said. “When those things occur, if we saved that money, it puts us in a better position. Also, it gives us – for lack of a better term – seed money if we ever want to go to the SBA [School Building Authority] for money, and they ask for us to put up a local share. If we have saved some money, that helps our chances of getting larger funding from the SBA.”
When making RIF decisions, Beam said it’s important to look at what is required by state law and what is not. While it is nice to have art and music teachers in the elementary schools, it is not required because elementary school teachers are certified to teach those subjects in their classes.
It may not be ideal, but it must be taken into consideration when the budget is tight.
“We try our best not to make the situation difficult for the students – putting too many kids in the classroom,” Beam said, “but we have lived way too long on ten, eleven, twelve kids in a classroom. I spoke with a treasurer from another county, and I was telling him that for years we’ve been fortunate to be able to have a music teacher and an art teacher for elementary kids, and he just looked at me. I can’t find anybody that offers a full-time counselor for schools that are the size of ours.”
Beam said he isn’t against having art, music and counseling in the elementary schools, but he has to make sure that there are core classes with teachers, and those have to come first.
“I don’t want the public to think that I am poo-pooing the importance of the arts – I’m not,” he said. “I’m just saying that you’ve got to have English teachers; you’ve got to have math teachers; you’ve got to have science teachers; you’ve got to have special education teachers. We have to have all those things, but when you get less and less money, and you’ve got less and less students, you’ve got to have less and less employees or you can’t survive financially. That’s kind of where we are.”
Since the number of employees relies heavily on the amount of funding the board receives, there is a silver lining. At times, the board receives funding after the RIF season is over. If there is enough funding, the board is able to rescind its actions and recover those positions.
“You can rescind a RIF up to August 1,” Beam said. “You can have a do over for lack of a better term. You can say we decided not to RIF that position, and that person remains in that job.”
“If a person chooses another position in the meantime because they don’t know if they are going to get that RIF rescinded, they can decide whether to keep the job they just applied for or go back to their old job.”