Champaign schools' reductions include tech specialist

CHAMPAIGN – Tonia Kirby relies on a computer specialist to help her and her second-grade students learn about new technology, get technology such as SMART Boards set up in her classroom at Robeson Elementary School and troubleshoot problems.

"She has great lesson plans," Kirby said of the specialist. "She teaches my kids why it's important not to share their passwords. She has a whole other perspective than I do as a classroom teacher."

Next year, Kirby won't have that help. The Champaign school district is eliminating the instructional technology specialist position for its elementary schools.

The person who holds that position now was among 80 employees in the district laid off Monday night in the annual reduction in force, or RIF. The district must notify any employee 60 days before the end of the school year if that person is not being rehired. Most will end up being rehired, but the district is eliminating eight positions, including two held by RIF employees.

The district is looking at how to provide the services of the instructional technology specialist more efficiently, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Beth Shepperd said.

She said each elementary school has a computer lab aide who can help. But those employees can't teach children or provide staff development to help teachers integrate technology into their lessons. The district is looking at different ways to train teachers, Shepperd said.

Kirby was confused as to why the district was eliminating a position that helped teachers and students.

"I don't see how technology in today's world can be considered nonessential," she said. "The position is crucial."

The other RIF position that will be eliminated is a teaching position at Barkstall Elementary School. The school has three classrooms at each grade level except one, which has four. The students in that class will move to middle school after this year, so the school is eliminating one teaching position and all grade levels will have three classrooms next year.

The district is eliminating six other positions by attrition, so no one had to be laid off.

Shepperd said half of the RIF employees could be recalled within a week. It's the district's practice to include all late hires in the RIF, but most will be recalled. Others whose salaries are paid for with grant money will be recalled once the district learns if it will get funding again for the coming year.

Some in the RIF were the result of certification issues, in- cluding six sign-language interpreters. Shepperd said the state has changed the rules on certification, and since the district is not sure all are in compliance with the new rules, they were put in the RIF. Shepperd said the district is asking the state board of education if the employees are compliant, and those who are will be rehired.

In other business, the school board approved locking in a lower rate on a gas contract with Vanguard. The contract runs through 2011, and Chief Financial Officer Gene Logas said it will save the district more than $100,000 on gas costs for each of the next two years.

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