FLORENCE - Tears flowed at a special meeting of the Florence School Board of Trustees on Monday night, as the board voted to eliminate or reduce several positions because of a forecast $220,000 budget shortfall next year.
During the meeting, the board voted to reduce the force of both the teaching staff and the classified staff. Trustees voted unanimously to reduce the full-time high school counselor position to a .6 full-time equivalent position, and to reduce a full-time physical education teacher to a .5 FTE position.
Superintendent John McGee told the crowd that because several teachers are either retiring or resigning, the school district will be able to shuffle several positions and avoid more cuts, as well as saving the German course offering.
Next, the board voted to eliminate a full-time special-education aid position, as well as reduce one full-time special-education secretary position to a .5 FTE position. McGee said that the budget committee took a long look at the classified staff, and determined that the best way to go about reducing the staff was to make sure that any staff member with seniority could not bump another, lower-ranking staff member out of a different position unless they were qualified to do so.
McGee said it was possible for certain staff members to take secretarial, custodial, or lunchroom positions to make up the loss of their full-time position.
This is when Florence Middle School special education teacher Jeanne Miller broke down.
She raised her hand to comment, but had to take a few moments to collect herself. One other woman in attendance at the meeting also had to leave the room to dry her eyes. Finally, after a few long moments of silence, Miller was able to continue.
"I just want the board to know there is a lot more involved," Miller said. "It takes a lot of training and a lot of time. I just want you guys to understand. When these (reduction in forces) happen, it just doesn't affect the adults, it affects the kids. And that's going to be the hardest part. So I just want you to understand how hard this is on my department, and the special ed department. Sometimes people forget that this affects the kids."
McGee told Miller that he knew that the decision to eliminate the positions was tough on everybody.
"I want to thank you for your words," McGee told Miller. "The difficult thing in all of this is none of this is personal. We just had to look at seniority. I don't want to trivialize this and say it's easy for someone to step into this position."
Board chairwoman Vickie Cornish also empathized with Miller's feelings.
"Anytime you make cuts we know it's affecting the children, and that's the hardest thing we have to do," she said.
"I do understand that," Miller responded. "I just wanted you guys to know."
Monday night's meeting went off without much in the way of fireworks, unlike last week's regular school board meeting, where a Ravalli County sheriff's deputy had to intervene to calm down a vocal citizen who spoke out against McGee.
The only contentious part of Monday night's meeting came when former board member Jim Shreve raised his hand to ask a question about the reduction of the physical education teacher.
"Is it not true that several years ago that Mr. McGee recommended to fire her without stepping foot in her classroom?" he asked.
Chairwoman Cornish took his question.
"That's really not relevant to this discussion, Mr. Shreve," she responded.
"That's all right, I just wanted it on record," Mr. Shreve said, and asked no further questions.
Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.