Hancock parents express layoff concerns

NEW CUMBERLAND – For the second time this month, parents of New Manchester Elementary School students have expressed concerns about how teacher layoffs will affect their children’s quality of education.

Scott and Shelly Allen attended Monday night’s meeting of the Hancock County Board of Education to ask for a reconsideration of the decision to lay off 21 teachers at the Feb. 11 meeting.

“When the (enrollment) numbers come in, we would like you to take another look at New Manchester,” Shelly Allen said.

The Allens, who have a son in first grade and a daughter in fourth grade at New Manchester, said their children do better in a small classroom setting. They don’t want a reduction-in-force to lead to larger classroom sizes.

“Nobody likes to see teachers cut. Nobody likes to see student-teacher ratios increase,” board President Jerry Durante said. “When you lose 130 students, that is a major budgetary blow.”

Durante was speaking of the fact that between the 2011-12 school year and the current school year, Hancock County Schools lost 130 students. The drop in enrollment means a reduction in state funding in the amount of $644,513 this year.

By law, the school district has to announce its reductions in force by March 1, even though kindergarten registrations won’t be known until March 15. Pre-kindergarten enrollments also could affect the district’s 2013-14 census, especially since the district is adding three pre-kindergarten classrooms at New Manchester and Allison Elementary schools.

School officials are holding out hope the enrollment numbers will stabilize or grow next year.

“We’ve never been in a situation where our population was dwindling,” Durante said. “We’d like to turn that around.”

Superintendent Suzan Smith said she spoke with Shelly Allen earlier in the day and tried to allay her concerns.

“We cannot continue those kind of losses,” Smith told the board. “Hopefully, the numbers will even out and we can get those people back.”

In addition to the teachers, the board laid off 33 non-certified employees, including bus drivers and supervisory aides. Eleven teachers were approved for a reduction in force by the end of the school year, and 10 were approved for “transfer and subsequent assignment” next school year.

Also Monday, the board learned about anti-bullying efforts at Oak Glen Middle School and Oak Glen High School.

Oak Glen High School Principal Barbara Logue said the school is instilling freshmen with an anti-bullying message in the hopes that the school will become a bully-free zone.

“On the whole, Oak Glen High School kids are very caring kids and are very tolerant of each other. They’re extremely kind kids,” Logue said.

Problems with bullying occur when outside issues get brought to school or are exacerbated through the pervasive use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and text messages, she said.

“One click, and 1,000 people see it,” Smith said. “There is no time to cool down. It just goes back and forth.”

Both Oak Glen High School and Middle School have Prevention Resource Officers supplied by the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department. At the high school, sheriff’s Deputy Brian Hissom recently received a grant to bolster his anti-bullying efforts. The school also has a new “Bears Against Bullying” initiative.

At the middle school, sheriff’s Deputy James McGaffick’s juvenile mediation program has been a “huge success,” Assistant Principal David Smith told the board Monday. “It has opened kids’ eyes up to what they should be doing.”

Through the program, McGaffick identifies students who are being disruptive in school and meets with them once a week. If a student’s behavior does not improve, he or she is placed on probation and must serve a court date with his or her parents, Smith said.

In other business Monday, the board agreed to solicit bids for the construction of a new maintenance building behind the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center off state Route 2. The building will replace the current maintenance building adjacent to the old Jimmy Carey Stadium in Weirton.