“Don’t feel like this is going to be a taboo topic if you ask me something,” Morrison told the crowd that gathered in the auditorium at Mendive Middle School.
Among other topics, some wanted to know if they would be able to keep their jobs.
After the Nevada Legislature met in special session at the end of February, the school district was told it had to cut 6.9 percent of its budget, or $33 million, over the next two years.
“Our people are concerned about losing their jobs,” said Wendy Boszak, a special educator at Shaw Middle School.
Several who participated in the Wednesday meeting were one-year-only teachers, making them candidates for layoffs, if necessary.
“I just want to know what is going on with my job,” said Jody Hatzell, a one-year-only teacher at Shaw.
Morrison admitted he did not have a clear or comforting answer for the normally temporary group.
“Unfortunately, we are operating on the ‘last one hired is first to go’ model,” Morrison said of the job category.
He added that the student achievement results from individual teachers would not be a factor in determining which of these educators will not be rehired for another year.
“I don’t think there is any way we can come through this without losing positions,” Morrison told the group. “However, I do not look at one-year-only teachers as a separate group. They contribute just as much as any other teacher.”
While many were concerned about salary reductions making up for the brunt of the cuts, Morrison assured the group that much of the money would be taken from ending fund balances and contingency funds. He also added that the district’s central services department is facing massive cuts.
“We will be doing the largest reduction ever in Washoe County central services,” Morrison said of the reduction in administrative staff. “But after that, we hit a wall … at that point there is only so much I can do.”
During the special session, the Legislature changed state law to allow school districts to increase class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. If that option were pursued and those class sizes increased by two students each, 92 teaching positions would be eliminated and the district would save about $6 million, Morrison said. If all other grades were increased as well, that increase would mean another 90 to 100 teachers gone with another savings of $6 million.
Students in Boszak’s classroom, she said, are packed 39 students deep.
“If they want to increase class size, I don’t know what the fire marshal would have to do as far as regulations,” Boszak said.
One teacher at the Wednesday meeting asked what the budget situation might look like for next year.
“I told you I would give you honest answers and the honest answer to that is I don’t know,” Morrison said.
However, the superintendent did add that when drawing down ending fund balances and pulling from contingency funds to meet this year’s shortfall, he would look to save some more for a future rainy day and not rely on savings to float through this year.
“You have a savings account for a rainy day,” Morrison said. “Well, it is a rainy day but it could be pouring next year and a flood in 2012.”
Morrison will continue to meet with school district employees in similar town hall-type meetings through April 1.
The school district’s final budget must be turned in to the state by June.