URBANA - School board members have been wrestling with theoretical budget reductions for weeks, and Tuesday, they made them a reality, laying off a long list of teachers and support personnel.
?This is one of the most difficult, unpleasant, unhappy responsibilities of a school board,? said board President Tina Gunsalus of the practice called RIFing in school circles. The acronym stands for reduction in force, required by the state to give employees who may not be rehired the next school year for financial or performance reasons 60 days' notice, and districts everywhere have turned the acronym into a verb to describe the annual March process.
?We're required to take these actions at this time, but a number of these positions are on grants, and we don't know now if the grants will be renewed,? Gunsalus said. ?We have employees who get this notice every year. As soon as we find out about continuing funding, we'll be re-employing them, but this is extremely unpleasant to go through.?
The RIF list at Urbana was much longer than usual this year, and it included 60 education support personnel and 11 adult education support personnel.
Urbana district administrators have been successful in the past in locating grants to help the district do its job without dragging down the budget, and most of those 71 employees are supported by state or federal money that will likely be restored.
However, Deputy Superintendent Preston Williams said the state situation is different this year because Gov. Rod Blagojevich won't give his budget address until April, so state sources will be in question for longer than usual.
Strapped districts everywhere in the state are going through the same exercise. Bement schools RIFed teachers last week, and Rantoul City Schools Thursday are also expected to terminate teachers and support personnel and a long list of programs.
Urbana's list of dismissals included 10 non-tenured part-time teachers; seven non-tenured first-year teachers; nine non-tenured second-year teachers; 11 non-tenured third-year teachers; and three non-tenured fourth-year teachers.
If the budget situation improves or attrition exceeds expectations, many of those dismissed teachers will be rehired before the next school year, and board members vowed to let them know their status as quickly as possible this spring or summer.
?As our situation becomes clear, these are subject to recall,? said John Dimit, board vice president. ?There are a lot of good teachers we had to take action on, some really good people on these lists.?
The board also voted to terminate contracts of two part-time teachers, two first-year teachers, one second-year teacher and one third-year teacher.
The RIFing action caps painful board efforts to trim $2 million from a 2003-04 budget, cuts that reach into almost all areas of school operations.
When teacher and staff restorations are made, the district will still employ five to seven fewer teachers at the elementary level, cuts made to address serious budget issues related to stagnant industrial growth, tax caps, declining revenues from Springfield and other issues that are impairing more than 80 percent of the districts in the state.
Superintendent Gene Amberg recommended that insurance benefits be extended to dismissed employees through August and board members quickly approved that action.
To underscore the district's slipping financial status, business manager Carol Baker revealed that the Urbana district has dropped a notch in state school financial rankings.
The profiles rank districts, from high to low, as worthy of financial recognition, financial review, financial early warning or financial watch.
Baker said Urbana is usually on the financial review list, but for fiscal year 2002, in part because of changes in ranking formulas and in part because of customary practices she may change, it's on the financial early-warning list.
?Fiscal year '03 will be worse,? Baker predicted.
You can reach Anne Cook at (217) 351-5217 or via e-mail at email@example.com