Hiring freeze hits schools

Published 2:06 pm Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Contributing Writer

To prepare for likely budget cuts in education spending in the coming school year, the Beaufort County Board of Education on Monday unanimously approved a hiring freeze for the county’s public schools.
The hiring freeze, which takes effect Jan. 24, 2011, the start of second semester, stipulates that all of the school system’s vacant faculty and staff positions will be frozen.
“No hires will be made unless deemed necessary by the superintendent or by state and federal regulations,” the policy approved by the board reads.
In recent months, Beaufort County Schools has offered only short-term contracts that expire June 14, 2011 to new employees, John Conway, assistant superintendent, told the board.
Once the hiring freeze is in place, school leaders will carefully evaluate the need to hire new employees to fill any vacancies that occur and “maybe not put anybody in those positions,” he said.
Last month, North Carolina’s education leaders told Beaufort County Schools to prepare for at least $3.1 million in cuts in next year’s budget — including the loss of 58 positions — a 5 percent cut in state funding.
A 10 percent cut would mean a $4.5 million reduction in state funds and the loss of at least 91 positions.
Statewide, North Carolina could lose more than 5,300 teaching positions and classes would be larger under the proposal for education cuts submitted by the state Department of Public Instruction last month to help cover a shortfall in the state budget, estimated at the time to be some $3 billion.
BCS Superintendent Don Phipps previously told the school board that, with careful planning, he hoped he could meet a 5 percent budget reduction through retirements and attrition rather than job cuts.
Since then, the state’s budget deficit has grown to an estimated $3.7 billion, according to estimates provided by economists in the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division.
Included in that number are not only the expiration of the temporary tax hikes passed in 2009 and the end of federal stimulus money, but also increased education enrollment and increased health-care costs.
The shortfall comes to 16.8 percent of next year’s budget.
Gov. Beverly Perdue is considering cuts of 10 percent in education and 15 percent in the rest of state government. Those cuts would eliminate more than 20,000 jobs in public schools alone.
After reviewing the November budget numbers, the school board tentatively made changes in its policy governing reductions in force for some of its employees in preparation for cuts.
Those policies are expected to come before the board in January.
In other business, the board:
• Unanimously voted to award a one-year contract for garbage disposal and recycling services for the school system to GDS Washington for $91,254.36 a year, pending a review of the contract. The schools will give a 30-day notice of termination of services to the City of Washington, which has been providing garbage disposal for schools within the Washington District and PAK-R Disposal and Recycling Inc., which has provided recycling services for the schools, the board was told.
• Unanimously voted to award landscaping contracts to companies submitting the low bids as follows: Washington District schools to Landscaping Unlimited for $68,000; Northside District schools to Landscaping Unlimited for $41,000; Southside District schools to Haw Branch Nursery and Landscaping for $35,049.96.
• Unanimously approved a request from Ted Melton, assistant principal at John Small Elementary School, for two weather stations to be placed at the school. The stations will hold a rain gauge, barometer, thermometer and wind vane for fifth-grade students as they study meteorology.
• Unanimously approved a request from Northeast Elementary School to add a speed bump in front of the school. The board’s Building, Grounds and Finance Committee was told the speed bump could be installed at “minimal cost” while paving work is being done at Northside High School.
• Unanimously approved the continuation of an Adolescent Parenting Program Grant from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
• Approved a January field trip for choral singers from Southside High School and Northside High School.
All board members attended the meeting.