Dayton school leaders may delay layoffs until summer

Comments by multiple school board members and the superintendent are casting doubt on whether Dayton Public Schools will go through with all of the staff cuts that were delayed Nov. 17.

School board President Adil Baguirov said at a community meeting Thursday that the district is unlikely to lay off classroom paraprofessionals when the board gathers again at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Board Vice President Sheila Taylor said she opposes plans to lay off six Building Trades employees who handle sheet metal, window glass, plaster and other repairs, arguing that it could hinder the district’s ability to take good care of the school buildings the community agreed to pay for last decade.

Board member John McManus was clear about his position.

“I would absolutely prefer that we table these actions on Tuesday and revisit the option at the end of the school year,” McManus said. “My opposition to these cuts has been consistent, and I will respectfully vote against the reductions on Tuesday.”

Superintendent Rhonda Corr said Friday that the district tried, outside of the paraprofessionals, to focus most of the cuts on central office, where 19 jobs have been eliminated. But this second wave of cuts is now clearly in question.

“As superintendent, I work at the will of the board, so I will move forward whatever the board asks me to move forward,” Corr said. “I think moving (any layoff) back to the summer would be less disruptive to our schools and would give our employees more of an opportunity to look for employment at a better time.”

But Corr emphasized that Dayton Public Schools must make sure staffing is appropriate to students' needs, pointing to a "desperate need" for teachers trained as early-grade reading specialists. She said DPS is working on partnerships with local universities to hire more of those teachers, and needs to establish more teacher-leaders to coach and support the rest of the teaching staff.

Money issue debated again

Corr repeated that the “sole reason” for the proposed cuts was a roughly 575-student drop in enrollment.

Baguirov also pointed to that enrollment drop, along with overstaffing in administration, as reasons for the cut. He said “the multi-million financial impact from that enrollment drop is one of the powerful effects that’s clearly felt.”

At Thursday’s meeting, DPS parent Dave Fanjoy asked, given how much money the district has in reserve, why DPS chose to make the cuts in the middle of the school year.

Baguirov pointed out that the district's bond rating was recently downgraded by one agency, in part because its reserve levels might be at risk if there was an economic downturn.

“Their requirements are always above 10 percent of the revenue in the budget,” Baguirov said. “We do not even have that 10 percent as of today.”

DPS Treasurer Hiwot Abraha confirmed Friday that DPS does narrowly have more than 10 percent in reserve today. According to the five-year forecast that the school board approved a month ago, that figure was just over 11 percent this past summer, and is projected to march upward to 13 percent this coming summer, 15 percent in 2018, and 17 percent in 2019.

Asked about those numbers Friday, Baguirov pointed out that DPS had been below that 10 percent level in recent years.

Community meeting

Thursday’s meeting at Corinthian Baptist Church featured several residents who were upset with district actions.

Lynda Huggins asked why the district was changing so much of the educational structure that had produced an "A" grade in student growth last year. Several parents complained about the decision to make the cuts in the middle of the school year, and argued that communication about the plan was poor.

After Baguirov touted the accomplishments of the current school board, and criticized previous school boards for making no progress, former board member Mario Gallin took issue, saying the district took steps forward in the early 2000s under Percy Mack, leading to a testy back-and-forth.

Parent Dion Sampson followed with a passionate speech in which he criticized the layoff process as poorly communicated, added that he didn’t appreciate the school board “talking down” to people who were seeking answers, and worried about a lack of trust between the school board and community.

School board member Robert Walker agreed that the board has not done a good enough job of community engagement. He said he wouldn’t apologize for the need for layoffs, but did apologize for the process in which they were done. He called this a watershed moment for the district.

“No. 1 is bridging the communication gap and trust from the 115 S. Ludlow St. administration building, down to the lowest paid person in the district, and to the person who might have children in the district, who is marginalized,” Walker said. “We want you to know that everybody in this district is important and valued. We are servants of this district first.”

The school board vote on the second round of layoffs is planned for a meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Dayton Public Schools headquarters, 115 S. Ludlow St., downtown.