While cutting people and jobs was painful, Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton said Tuesday, he was proud of where staff had ended with the recent Reduction in Force.

While cutting people and jobs was painful, Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton said Tuesday, he was proud of where staff had ended with the recent Reduction in Force.

Norton said during Gulf County School Board’s regular monthly meeting that the total number of people laid off in the past few weeks was five, instead of the 12-15 initially predicted.

That number does not include the 11-12 person custodial staff which will have the opportunity to transition to a private contractor over the course of June.

“We have not taken lightly what we have done,” Norton said. “We have cut through the muscle and the bone. We are literally in the marrow.

“Tears have been shed, prayers have been shared, meetings have been had. At the end of the day we had to do what we had to do and that was a reduction in force.”

Sandra Butler, executive director of the union representing district teaching and non-instructional personnel, questioned whether the master contract with the district had been breached when the district did not vote on specific subject areas or evaluation rubrics in making the layoff decisions.

She also questioned why an employee with more than 30 years in the district was not able to “bump” another less-experienced employee, as also spelled out in the master contract.

“It does appear that our master contract has been breached again,” she said.

Norton said that the language of the master contract was trumped by state law and a state law passed last year specifically mandates that the district can not consider seniority or tenure in considering layoffs.

“We did the only thing at this point we could do and we followed policies and procedures correctly,” Norton said. “We do not take lightly when we have to go against the master plan, or master contract. But we may not prioritize based on seniority.”

Board member Linda Wood said she had been questioned about the district advertising for teaching openings while announcing a reduction in force.

Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Sara Joe Wooten said there were a host of factors.

They include if a program is eliminated, the level and kind of teacher certification – critical at Title I schools which receive earmarked federal dollars – performance issues and the transition of teachers from one area or school to another are all factors that create openings while the workforce is being sliced.

“There are a lot of reasons,” Wooten said. “You can’t just put a warm body in there.”

Just this week, the board approved the movement of nearly 10 teachers from one school to another to fill specific needs.

Norton also said he hoped the district was nearing the end of an era of ever-shrinking budgets.

Declining school enrollment remains a nagging issue – Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School lost nearly 50 students this year alone – and a bleeder on the bottom line.

“We are fighting to keep our school system that is antiquated,” Norton said of a system that is essentially two districts 22 miles apart in the same county.

Consolidation, a consistent topic, is at least five years away even if the district and state had bricks and mortar dollars for a new school, neither of which do at the current time, he added.

Norton said there also seemed to be sufficient signs in the real estate market that property values would begin to rebound after dropping another 5-7 percent this year, according to very preliminary numbers from the Property Appraiser’s Office.

Interactive honors courses

In collaboration with the Panhandle Area Educational Consortium (PAEC), the district will be installing a two-way interactive system, called Polycom, to conduct honors level courses between the county’s junior/senior high schools.

For example, Wooten said, the district already plans an honors Spanish class that will be taught by a teacher in Port St. Joe and taken by classrooms of students at both schools, with a classroom monitor in Wewahitchka.

Honors science such as anatomy and physiology will also be taught.

“It is really a great thing,” Wooten said of the one-year trial. “I can’t wait to get it started in the fall.”