TISD faces turmoil
(EDITOR'S NOTE: The Dec. 16 article regarding the Tioga ISD board meeting reported in error that no decisions had been made regarding budget cuts at the Dec. 12 school board meeting. After an executive session meeting that evening, the board voted to cut $1.5 million from the operating budget through a reduction of force.)
By Abigail Allen
The Tioga ISD trustees opted to implement a reduction of force of 20 district employees and to cut the salaries of Interim Superintendent Josh Ballinger and Athletic Director Chad Rogers by 10% at the Tuesday board meeting.
TISD voted to declare financial exigency on Nov. 14, which is a financial declaration that the district cannot fulfill its obligations for payroll and instructional costs, which led to a tough call on Dec. 12.
"I make a motion that we as a board direct our superintendent to provide a list or to make a reduction in force of roughly $1.5 million [in] annualized payroll by 2 o'clock on the 14th, which is two days from now," trustee Brandon Miller said.
The impact of that decision was on display at the Tuesday evening meeting.
Kindergarten teacher Beth Dunning, who is one of the faculty and staff members terminated on the basis of financial exigency, expressed her sorrow and concern on behalf of her students.
After handing the trustees and Ballinger a copy of the letter she wrote, she took a deep breath and began to read, opening with a statement that she was not begging for her job.
"I think it's important for you and the community to know what you have done to me financially and mentally, but most importantly, what you have done to the students … in room 204," she said.
Many of her students cycled through three teachers in pre-K, which one of the parents had told Dunning made their child ask "when they were getting a new teacher this year."
The parent's response of "You aren't. You're only supposed to have one teacher all year long," was no longer accurate, Dunning said.
"Most of my students are 5," Dunning read. "They do not understand anything other than the fact is their teacher is gone and she isn't coming back."
She continued on to touch on the financial impact moving to Tioga from Denton ISD for her 17th year in education had on her before she was terminated.
"That's over $11,000 that I gave up to come to Tioga," she said. "Why? Because I thought I was coming to a family, and sometimes family is worth more than money."
She questioned why multiple teachers were hired at the beginning of the year when the district was already facing budget woes.
A TISD parent, Jamie Chamberlain, questioned why so much of the discussion is happening in executive session.
"Please stop hiding behind closed doors," she said. "I have asked repeatedly for this privately in meetings to all of you. If you were voted in to represent the people in your community, be willing to have an opinion so that people know what you do and do not stand for."
Another TISD mother, Jessica How, asked whether the TISD community should brace for more cuts in staff or whether that would come more in the form of program cuts.
"I understand what you're going to need from us," she said. "What I need … before I write a check, … what are this district's priorities going to be? I joined Tioga because it was an academic-focused district."
She asked whether the district has "chosen not to cut and gut an athletics program and have we instead chosen to cut out teachers."
Kevin Colteryahn asked the community to support the board and district.
"I'd just like people in the community not be bashing on social media," he said.
Kristi Staples, speaking for herself and then also on behalf of her husband, Rick Staples, who served on the TISD school board, said they respected the board but questioned making the call to cut staff right now.
"I feel like you acted in desperation and fear instead of in wisdom," she said.
Following the executive session, which lasted from 6:30 to around 8:55, the board and Ballinger returned with a few answers for the crowd.
That included the pay cut for Ballinger and Rogers—$1,266.67 per month for Ballinger to bring his monthly salary to $11,400, and $987.08 for Rogers, resulting in $8,883.75 per month.
The cut went into effect immediately moving forward.
"If we're going to ask other people to unfortunately give up their position, then we should be willing to stick our name on the line as well," Ballinger said. "I know that's nothing compared to losing your position, but it's a step in the right direction to getting us back on track."
Four people have resigned: Elizabeth Kimbrell, middle school math; Troy Parker, high school 504/RTI and coach; Courtney Tanguma, first grade; and Tricia McQueen, administrative assistant.
Ten contract employees were terminated: Patricia Bodine, elementary music; Chelsea Hamner, fourth grade; Misty Watkins, second grade; Beth Dunning, kindergarten; Monica Evans, pre-K; Arin Lane, middle school language arts; Audrey Staples, fifth grade; Annie Thompson, middle school 504/RTI and coach; Kate Thompson, high school English; and Terry Wolf, middle school history and coach.
Six at-will employees were also terminated: Belinda Baeza, high school health office assistant; Nicole Barletta, high school teaching assistant; Shelly Hughes, transportation support; Kathy Jones, custodian; Sherrie Swink, cafeteria assistant; and Roger White, maintenance support.
"I'll be the first to admit that there should have been some action taken a few months ago and potentially looked at spots where we didn't have to have a personnel unit come in and give up those opportunities in other districts … and made it work for our kids at that time," Ballinger said.
The district is trying to be more transparent and realistic, he added.
"Our priority is always going to be the academic side," Ballinger said. "Part of that academic side is certainly our extracurricular activities. That plays an important role in our school, as it does in any school."
Adjustments to the budgets for those activities "will continue to be made," he added.
"We are all Tioga every day that we come here, regardless of where you drive in from," Ballinger said. "And that's the way that I view this to continue in the future. The seven people sitting around me are 100% committed to not allowing this district to be consolidated and 100% of us are in favor of anything that we should be looking at."
TISD community members Chamberlain and Katie Schroeder set up a GiveSendGo campaign to raise money for the staff members who have lost their job, which can be found at bit.ly/SupportTiogaStaff.
Jordyn Miller, Elizabeth Kemp and Chamberlain have also started the process of establishing the Tioga Education Foundation.
Information regarding the new nonprofit can be found at tiogaeducationfoundation.org.