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North Forest ISD cuts employees in first step to solvency; delays consolidation

NORTH FOREST– Faced with a large deficit and pressure from the state of Texas TEA, the School District board of directors listened to a presentation of alternatives to regain the district’s financial and academic standing, from Interim Superintendent William Jones at last Friday’s board meeting.
Jones presented a detailed plan with 5 phases, which included various scenarios of personnel cuts and school consolidations. He recommended to the board that they accept Plans 1 and 3. Plan 1 called for immediate cuts in school personnel, and Plan 3 called for combining the High Schools and elementary schools Hilliard and Tidwell, with additional major reductions in staffing in the school year 2008-2009.
The board voted 4-1 to implement Plan 2, but after a lot of discussion, they did not act on any other plans. Plan 2 was similar to Plan 1, but called for additional personnel cuts in the central administration department, which Trustee Williams said repeatedly during the evening made more sense than cutting a lot of lower paying jobs. It is expected that a total of about 45 staff will be terminated in this school year, starting almost immediately, Jones said. Plans 1 and 2 also called for selling district assets, such as the Langley elementery building, 130 acres of vacant land, and some temporary classroom buildings. Also included were department budget cuts of 20% across the board, and postponement of completion of work at Kirby middle school. Jones projected an annualized savings of about $7, 708,000 for Plan 2.

The total deficit that the district is trying to recover is about $17 million, so additional cuts will have to be made, he said. This will include combining the high schools, two elementary schools, and perhaps combining the middle schools.
The board agreed with Jones that the district had too many school buildings for the student population, and too large a staff.
The board indicated they were not prepared to make any additional cuts at this time, but would consider them at the next meeting, scheduled for March 10. At that time, consolidation of some of the schools will be the major topic, it is assumed.
The evening started with a public meeting, to hear comments from the community. About 5 persons came forward to comment, with a variety of praise and complaints.
A highlight of the evening was a report from administrators Dr. Sharp and Dr. Lewis, who said the new plan to combine the high schools would result in retaining the better teachers, retraining all the staff, implementing new technologies including distance learning, new and more AP and pre-AP courses, and a new magnet school.
Jones made a power point presentation, noting that NF student population has been losing 500 students a year, and he anticipates a drop from the current 8300 to about 7700 by 2010.
TEA representative Ron Rowell spoke, praising the board for action on Plan 2, but noting that further action must be taken soon to meet contractural deadlines for staff reductions.
Plan 2 was moved and approved, with YES votes from trustees McCall, Taylor, Provost, and Ross, and NO from Williams. Trustees Gaston and Lemons were not present.