Layoffs begin in Baker school district, but no tenured teachers have been let go yet _lowres

Herman Brister

The Baker School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a belt-tightening budget for the 2015-16 school year and also to raise stipends for athletic coaches at Baker Middle School.

The budget projects $14.7 million in expenditures and $14.9 million in revenues for the 2015-16 school year. Last year, the district had $17.3 million in expenditures and took in $14.5 million in revenues. The difference was made up by a surplus in the general fund.

At the July School Board meeting, Superintendent Herman Brister, who replaced outgoing Superintendent Ulysses Joseph in May, promised to deliver a balanced budget for the 2015-16 school year.

Deep cuts were made to achieve that goal, including laying off staff and teachers, instituting furloughs for some non-teaching employees, freezing step increases for teachers and increasing the student teacher ratio from 13:1 to 26:1.

Eleven staff and teachers have been laid off and 31 vacant positions have not been filled with full-time employees, Brister confirmed after the meeting.

Brister told the board he is not finished making budget cuts. “There is still more work to do,” he said.

After the meeting, Brister said he isn’t sure how long teachers would not receive step increases, which are yearly pay raises that vary based on experience and other factors.

“Until we have a balanced budget, probably through the school year,” he said.

He added that he feels it is important for teacher retention to bring back the raises as soon as possible.

In other business, the board voted unanimously to approve increasing stipends for head athletic coaches at Baker Middle School from 2.5 percent of their salaries to 7 percent of their salaries. Assistant coaches had previously received 2.5 percent and will now receive 4 percent of their salaries in stipends.

Despite the budget tightening in other areas, Brister defended the stipend increases.

Quality athletic programs are necessary to build community support for the schools, he said.

Baker Middle still needs to hire three or four coaches for the 2015-16 school year, including head football and baseball coaches.

Brister acknowledged that the percentages might be lower in other districts but defended the increases by noting Baker Middle is the only school feeding athletes to Baker High School.

“We have to stay competitive,” he said.