Ax falls at Yankton Schools

Twenty-two teachers in the Yankton School District were informed Thursday and Friday that they would not be offered contracts for the 2011-2012 school year. In addition, 39 coaching and advisor positions were eliminated in the first round of cuts in what school officials say will be a deep cut into the district’s work force.

“Cutting teachers is never a step a school district wants to take,” said superintendent Dr. Joseph Gertsema Friday. “But state law says that all certified contracts have to be board-approved by April 15. With the district facing a $1.5 million known deficit, an additional $1.6 million revenue shortfall based on cuts made by the Legislature and a declining enrollment, we were left with no choice but to make cuts to the certified staff at this time.”

Notified that they would not be offered contracts at this time were:

• High school: Jill Metheny, Carri Hales and Patricia Kortan;

• Middle school: Stephanie Bernatow, Drew Lawrence, Charlene Arens, Rhonda Hofer and Gayle Johnson;

• Beadle Elementary: Sheryl Blackinton, Caitlin Iddings, Peggy Schortzman and Kimberly Eide;

• Lincoln Elementary: Erika Hansen, Molly Lindgren, Karen Baker and Laura Nedved;

• Stewart Elementary: Jackie Jerke, Kelli Simonsen and JoAnn Syrovatka;

• Webster Elementary: Kathy Frank and Jennifer Kapla.

While the cuts to the certified teaching staff seem steep, Gertsema warned that the savings do not come close to satisfying the budget shortfall facing the district and that cuts to programs and non-certified staff will be announced at a later date.

In addition to the 22 teaching positions 39 coaching and advisor positions were eliminated, most of them directly affecting 5-8th grade activities.

Those positions eliminated are:

• Two fifth grade boys’ basketball coaches

• Two fifth grade girls’ basketball coaches;

• Two sixth grade girls’ basketball coaches;

• Two sixth grade boys’ basketball coaches;

• Three fifth-sixth grade track coaches;

• Two fifth-eighth grade gymnastics coaches;

• Two seventh grade boys’ basketball coaches;

• Two seventh grade girls’ basketball coaches;

• Two seventh grade volleyball coaches;

• Two seventh-eighth grade wrestling coaches;

• One seventh-eighth grade cross country coach;

• Four seventh-eighth grade track coaches;

• Four seventh-eighth grade football coaches;

• Two eighth grade girls’ basketball coaches;

• Two eighth grade volleyball coaches;

• Two eighth grade boys’ basketball coaches;

• Two seventh-eighth grade Oral Interpretation advisors;

• Marching colorguard advisor;

“The unfortunate aspect of this is this is just the first round of cuts,” Gertsema said. “By law we had to notify the teachers by April 15, we are still looking at additional cuts to the non-certified staff as well as programs in the district.”

Gertsema said that, according to the teacher master contract, the following steps (in no particular order) were used to determine which positions would be eliminated:

• Student needs;

• Years of service to the district;

• Evaluation records;

• Recommendations of the administrative staff;

• Accreditation standards;

• Requirements of courses or grade level to be taught;

• Professional preparation;

• Experience in a similar position; and,

• Priority and/or elimination of programs.

“Unfortunately, the budget numbers speak for themselves,” said Yankton School Board member Verlin Ailts. “We are facing a $3.2 million shortage. Pending the results of the opt-out, these cuts keep some options open to the school board, including rehiring of teachers should more funding be found.”

While the district has been fielding numerous calls since the announcement of the opt-out was made, the frequency of the calls has significantly increased this week. In order to help address the commonly asked questions, district business manager Jason Bietz has set up a frequently asked questions page on the district website at www.ysd.k12.sd.us/optout/.

“As questions are asked and raised, we will do our best to keep the site updated,” he said. “There is an option where people can submit questions to be answered that is to email webmaster@ysd.k12.sd.us, or there is a link on the page.”

The next opportunity for community members to address the Yankton School Board will be Monday at the regularly scheduled board meeting. However, based on the expected number of attendees to the meeting, district officials have moved the location from the administration building to the Yankton Middle School Auditorium.

“We hope that the community does come out and get involved with the process,” Gertsema said. “We have made a point to put all the information out to the public in as timely of a manner as possible. What people need to understand is our hands were very tied by how the process in the Legislature took place this year. From the time Gov. (Dennis) Daugaard released his budget in January until the session ended in mid-March, we were in a holding pattern waiting to see what would happen. Once we knew, we acted as fast as we could in the public’s best interest.”

Monday’s meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. with 13 items on the agenda for discussion, including setting the date for the opt-out election.

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