During a special school board meeting Tuesday, Supt. Rona Kaufmann presented information on declining enrollment, staffing and budgetary issues. About 100 people, most of them teachers, were in the audience.
Because the district has lost more than 400 students over the past four years, but continued to hire new personnel, it is now overstaffed, Kauffman said. The state Department of Education projects South Eastern will continue to lose students over the next three years to a level of 2,615 students, fewer than the number enrolled in 1994-95, she said.
"It's puzzling to me why we added staff while enrollment was declining," Kauffman said. "This kind of trend is setting this district up for disaster." Kaufmann is in her first year as superintendent.
In a PowerPoint presentation, she compared the number of students with the number of teaching staff. South Eastern now has 262 professional employees and an enrollment of 2,900. In 1996-97 when the district had a similar enrollment size, it employed 177 professionals, she said.
Cutting 17 positions would save the district about $900,000, she said.
"I know I'm not a very popular person right now, but I must maintain the fiscal health of this district," Kaufmann said. "I'm committed to making the tough decisions."
Although Kaufmann did not identify the teaching positions that could be eliminated, several teachers addressed the board saying they were among the potential furloughs.
Most spoke with choked voices and tears in their eyes. They talked about how teacher cuts would mean larger class sizes, which in turn leads to more behavioral problems and less individualized attention.
"I'm pleading not just for my job...but for you to look at all the details and to make a decision that's right for kids," Kennard-Dale High School teacher Abby Smith said to rousing applause.
Veteran teacher Michael Buleza offered to give his coming salary increase to help balance the budget and prevent furloughs. He challenged other teachers to do the same while also asking the board to provide the South Eastern Education Association with a line-item budget so that teachers can help identify potential cuts that will not affect staff.
The school board's next meeting is 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the East building's auditorium.