Asked what DPS would do between now and June, school board President Adil Baguirov said the goal should be to grow the district, because if enrollment increases, there won’t be a need for staff cuts.
"We want to make sure that we, at the very least, try to avoid any further reductions in school enrollment," Baguirov said, referring to the 577-student dip that triggered the staff cuts. "That is the biggest issue. The less students we have, the less employees we can afford to have. … We want to grow that student body."
The school board had been scheduled to vote on 42 personnel moves involving teachers and instructional aides, mental health technicians, plus clerical, building trades and operations employees. The agenda showed 21 people listed for layoff, 12 slated to be reduced to substitute roles, and nine changing assignments, although more than a dozen others were also slated to switch schools.
Those employees will now stay put. But there will be no reversal for the 19 administrative employees who were laid off last month or for the 27 teachers who switched assignments.
More than two dozen parents, union leaders and employees addressed the board after the decision, many thanking John McManus and other board members for doing their due diligence and agreeing to the delay. But they also urged the board to look deeper into the roles those at-risk staffers play.
Jim Tackett a union representative who works with the paraprofessional group, said some of the proposed cuts "don't make sense," arguing that the classroom aides offer 1-on-1 work with students that directly affects student achievement.
DPS parent Lela Klein encouraged the board to think about the importance of classroom chemistry and how frequent changes can disrupt it. But she also talked about the need for better communication between district leadership and the community.
"I'm so grateful that you heard our voices," Klein said. "To the extent that the community and parents can be in the loop and have our questions answered, we'll feel much more comfortable going forward. … And to all the parents out there, let's just stay involved."
Corr said the board asked her to have a plan in place to react to the enrollment drop by November, so she did so. She said the initial recommendation, while unpopular, was “both transparent and fiscally responsible.” There was some rumbling in the audience at that statement, and community leader Darryl Fairchild later told Corr he disagreed.
Corr said Tuesday’s change of direction came after “a great deal of reflection and listening to our school staff, parents and community.” She said DPS must set high expectations and make sure it is preparing students for long-term success, asking the community to be part of that goal.
“I believe that the current timing would be a disruption to our schools,” Corr said. “I think this will also give us time for me and the members of the board and my team to get out and listen to our parents, our schools, our students, our teachers, our paraprofessionals, to make sure that we do have the right plan going forward. We have a solid plan, but we need to also be able to communicate.”
There was a mix of conflict and healing between the public and the school board. One parent argued loudly that any board member without children in the district should resign, and activist David Esrati criticized the district for a list of “whoops moments.” But union rep Steve Keeney lauded DPS human resources staff for their respectful approach, and several speakers thanked board members for visiting schools to get a better sense of everyday concerns.
Jocelyn Rhynard, who helps lead a group of concerned parents, presented five concerns — conflicting financial figures from the district, a need to understand the reasons for the enrollment drop, "grave concerns" about replacing Title 1 paraprofessionals during the school year, poor communication between the board and the public, and a call for publicity about great assets of DPS, such as the Challenger Center.
“I thank this board for this decision,” said Phillip Raimey, who praised paraprofessional Emily Nelson for helping his daughter with reading at Charity Earley school. “We have six to seven months now to get this right. Nothing worth doing is going to be easy.”