Cove union: Budget murky

ROARING SPRING – Despite the revelation this week that Spring Cove School District’s preliminary 2013-14 budget includes teacher furloughs, administrators haven’t told educators any details about the possible layoffs, the head of the teachers’ union said Wednesday.

“There’s been zero discussion with the [Spring Cove Education] Association,” union President John Fitzpatrick said. “I’ve never seen a budget drag out like this.”

The proposed budget, which passed Monday with a 6-3 vote, features hundreds of thousands of dollars in cuts to close a growing deficit. Among those cuts are several support and teaching positions, though administrators declined to identify specific positions this week.

Business Manager John Clark said Monday that he would rather wait for furloughed employees to receive notice before making the cuts public.

As of Wednesday, the identities of those set to be cut – and even the precise number of furloughs – remained unclear, Fitzpatrick said.

“We’ve asked the building administrators, and they don’t know anything,” he said.

Board Finance Committee member Amy Acker-Knisely said she hopes to see a public announcement at a meeting next Thursday, after administrators privately notify individual teachers and staff to be furloughed.

The school board has worked with attorneys in recent days to iron out possible contract issues related to the budget, Acker-Knisely said.

“I completely understand their feelings. … These are peoples’ lives and their livelihoods,” she said. “But we’re dealing with the legal system.”

Fitzpatrick said union members are looking into a plan of action in case they don’t find out soon. He declined to say what that might entail.

He said teachers – especially those at risk of layoff – need to know their work status soon, so they can weigh their chances of rehiring or consider nearby job openings.

While the district would remain deep in the red without major budget trimming, economic problems alone aren’t a legally acceptable cause for teacher furloughs, Fitzpatrick noted. Administrators must demonstrate additional factors, such as enrollment drops, under Pennsylvania law.

In a presentation before Monday’s budget vote, Superintendent Robert Vadella cited the district’s 15-year enrollment decline as grounds for an administrative shift. In that time, however, the number of teachers at Spring Cove has dropped roughly on par with enrollment.

The student-teacher ratio today, 15.09-to-1, is slightly lower than its 15.17-to-1 ratio 15 years ago, Vadella said.

Teacher furloughs will depend on attrition losses and the district’s rehiring choices, Fitzpatrick said: If all this year’s retirees are replaced, as many as five teachers could be laid off.

Vadella did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.