Haines School. (Emily Files)

Haines School. (Emily Files)

Haines School’s interim superintendent says the district needs to start downsizing its staff. One of the first departments to get trimmed is special education. At a meeting Tuesday, the school board accepted the resignation of one of the district’s three certified SPED teachers. To save money, her position will not be filled next school year.

There were two items on the school board agenda that show how SPED staffing will shrink next year. SPED teacher Naomi Buck is resigning and aide Jennifer Marschke asked for a leave of absence during the first half of the school year, so she can come back to her job in the second semester. The board denied her request at the recommendation of Interim Superintendent Rich Carlson.

“I want to state right up front that she is an excellent employee,” Carlson said. “However, I’m strongly recommending that you vote this down.”

Carlson said allowing Marschke to take just part of the year off would be disruptive to students. And, he said with the projected student numbers, they won’t need her.

Carlson said that’s also the case for SPED teacher Naomi Buck, who is moving out of town. At this point, the district does not plan to replace her.

“I don’t believe the district can sustain the current level of expenditures we have right now,” Carlson said. “So the goal really is to reduce staff. We want to do that, if we can, through attrition. This really plays into that very well.”

Part of the reason for the reduction is an anticipated loss of three intensive needs students. Carlson said those are kids who require one-on-one attention most of the time. Of course, there are many special education students who aren’t in the intensive group.

“Because of the three intensive kids, which require an enormous amount of staff time, we feel like we easily cover the number. We’re looking at probably 50 kids in special education.”

Carlson said not replacing Buck will save about $80,000, including salary and benefits.

To pick up some of the extra burden on the two remaining certified SPED teachers, new administrator Kim Cunningham’s duties will shift. Cunningham is the Director of Student Services and oversees special education. She doesn’t have the certification to directly work with students, but Carlson said she’ll help with paperwork.

“We feel like we can reduce a lot of that paperwork, give it to Kim, which is the realm of a special ed director, and therefore free up our other special ed people.”

In turn, Assistant Principal Cheryl Sticker will take on some of the duties currently assigned to Cunningham.

“It simply is a downsizing across the board. Downsizing the administration, downsizing the certified staff. And as you heard, one of the classified staff members, I’m recommending we not replace that as well.”

Certified SPED teachers Tammy Hamilton and Jason Eson declined to comment on the decision to downsize teaching staff in their department. When asked if the special education staff is on board, Carlson said:

“We’ve been talking about it for some time, and Kim has been working with them. So the specifics about how all the pieces of the puzzle are gonna fit together, that’s a work in progress and we’ll be working on it during the next couple weeks. But certainly this is a conversation that has been had with the staff.”

Not only will teachers next year cope with a reduced staff. They’ll also pay more for healthcare. After a few years without rate hikes, insurance premium costs are set to increase 24 percent. Haines Education Association president Lisa Andriesen wrote a letter to the school board outlining the union’s concerns.

Andriesen said the cost hikes are detrimental staff morale. She said some staff members are questioning their employment with the district. Next year, staff will have to dish out more than double the amount they paid this year. The rates for classified staff, such as paraprofessionals, will increase from $125 each month to $310. Certified staff will go from paying $100 a month to $285.

“It was a substantial hit particularly for the classified people,” Carlson said “It’s certainly something that will need to be looked at next year when negotiations are reopened.”

The current contract between the school district and employees states the district will shoulder 50 percent of insurance premium cost increases. Andriesen said in her letter that it would be helpful for the district to take on more of the expense. She said at this point, the increase is an ‘undue burden’ on staff.