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Norwin schools plan to cut 8 teaching positions

Joe Napsha
| Monday, May 21, 2018, 9:48 p.m.

Eight teaching positions will be eliminated as the Norwin School District grapples with a budget deficit the school board hoped to eliminate with a 3.1 percent increase in real estate taxes for the 2018-2019 school year.

The school board Monday narrowly approved the changes in a 5-4 vote that gave the administration the authority to curtail and alter programs the district offers in art, family and consumer science and technology education.

“We've been wrestling with this for some time. Nobody wants to make cuts to the professional staff,” board President Robert Perkins said.

Pointing out that the state has only given Norwin an additional $160,000 in basic education subsidies for the school year, Perkins told more than 40 teachers who jammed the meeting room “that's not enough to sustain the programs we have.”

“We're disappointed to see the potential loss of teachers” and hope that cutting staff was “a last resort,” teachers union Vice President Megan Zobb said.

Under the proposed plan, these positions would be eliminated: one elementary reading specialist, two middle school art and family and consumer science teachers, two high school health and physical education teachers and one position each in high school science, technology education and family and consumer science.

The three teachers that would be affected by the cuts may avoid furloughs if they acquire additional certifications. Perkins noted the district last year recommended teachers acquire more certifications to teach other subjects.

Superintendent William Kerr said there is time during the summer when some of the employees may finish a second certification to teach other subjects, thus allowing potential transfers where dual certifications may exist,” Kerr said.

“We are trying to minimize the impact on our staff,” Kerr said.

Paul Amic, grievance chairman for the teachers union, said he understood the district's financial condition but said by cutting educational programs, “we're hurting the kids.”

In addition to the layoffs, the school district will conduct a one-year evaluation of staffing with approval from the Norwin Education Association of three long-term substitute jobs: a middle school music teacher, an elementary librarian and an elementary teacher.

Perkins sounded an ominous tone for the 2019-2020 school year, saying “it's not going to get any easier next year.”

While the district plans to layoff some teachers, it approved creating 10 teaching positions in the new school year: three in elementary; two in middle school and five in special education.

Against the backdrop of the planned teacher cuts, the board failed by a 5-4 vote to adopt a $71.1 million preliminary budget that would have raised taxes by 2.4 mills, the maximum allowed by the state for the Westmoreland County portion of the district. The Norwin Public Library was to receive 1.2 mills of that increase.

The budget would have increased taxes for property owners in North, Huntingdon, Irwin and North Irwin to 80 mills. For about 18 property owners in Allegheny County, their real estate taxes would have risen by 0.32 mills.

Directors Donald Rhodes and Dennis Rittenhouse said they voted for the budget because the board has to adopt a preliminary spending plan in May so it can approve a final version by June 30. Rittenhouse said he would not vote to approve a final budget if changes were not made.

Directors Darlene Ciocca and Brian Carlton said they opposed the budget because they believed there should have been cuts in administrative costs.

The board did not set a date for another meeting to adopt a preliminary budget.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252.

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