With financial conditions still poor and more budget cuts anticipated for next year, the Department of Education said in a statement Monday it has no choice but to dismiss 44 more employees, of whom 14 are teachers.
"In the past year alone, we have looked at several cost-cutting measures," Education Commissioner LaVerne Terry said in a statement.
She said the school system has managed to stay afloat by:
– reducing materials and supplies budgets;
– cutting telephone lines, cell phones and internet cards;
– reducing the department’s fleet;
– dismissing employees;
– and looking at creative ways to use federal Special Education funds to cover mandatory services, such as bus transportation for students on St. Croix and salaries for bus drivers on St. Thomas.
"Unfortunately, that has not been enough," Terry said. The department will be short at least $3.5 million in the current fiscal year and a $9.2 million cut in the proposed 2013 budget about to be published will stretch resources even further once it takes effect, she said.
"In the months ahead, it is anticipated that we will need to be even more innovative and look at bridging the gap with cuts or consolidations in services, programs and contracts," Terry said. "We are looking at reducing our school transportation costs in the upcoming year and plan on digging deeper into our operating costs in order to make additional reductions.”
“We are also in the process of embarking on an aggressive energy campaign that will take a hard look at the Department’s water and power expenses and determine how we can realistically cut back," she said.
But in the short term, personnel costs consume about 85 percent of Education’s local dollars "and is, realistically, the largest personnel budget in government," she said.
Terry said it is difficult to announce more dismissals. But she said it was important to note that none of the individuals being dismissed in this wave have the certification or degrees required by law.
And "while we do assure the public that there should be little to no impact on core instructional programs, afterschool or summer programs, we do understand the concerns that go along with making this decision," the commissioner said.
Both budget cuts and declining enrollment led to this point, Terry said. Education’s budget has dropped from $202.5 million in 2009 to $169.3 million in 2012. And over the period of 2002-2010 enrollment declined from a high of 17,560 to a low of 15,493, she said.
"While there was a slight uptick in the numbers in 2011, the continued decrease has allowed for excess staff in a variety of areas," Terry said.
The department is taking suggestions for how to further save money at firstname.lastname@example.org.