Huntsville City Schools district addresses staffing changes

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - As Huntsville City Schools deals with a difficult financial situation after the discovery of a $5.5 million accounting error last year, some people concerned about recent staff changes contacted WHNT News 19.

The district has not said anything about reductions in force or layoffs, but a spokesman did confirm 154 non-tenured employees were not renewed in the district after a board vote on a Human Resources report last week. These 154 positions are across 34 schools and 8 departments. We are told they range from assistant principals to administrative office assistants and teachers too.

They are not considered layoffs of RIFs. The district said non-renewals are standard procedure for the end of the school year not just for Huntsville City Schools, but other districts around the state.

Staffing is, to some extent, based on enrollment. Teaching units are accrued based on student population, which can fluctuate. We've learned the staff who were not renewed could potentially be hired back before October 1, 2019, without a break in service.

Keith Ward, HCS spokesman, told WHNT News 19 that 154 non-renewals is down from the amount they had last year. He said it was a decrease of 38 compared to the 192 the district saw last year.

He said this year, 86  people who were not renewed were hired as temporary, 26 were not renewed because of job performance, and 17 had not yet met the Alabama Certification requirements.

"By comparison, in 2018, there were 70 individuals that were non-renewed for job performance, and 31 that had not met the Alabama Certification requirements," he said in a statement.

While the non-renewals certainly benefit the budget, the district maintains it is not because of the budget.

And in fact, there have been efforts to retain teachers throughout the year.

Superintendent Christie Finley said last week, "We have been very purposeful in the goal of retaining as many teachers as we possibly can. We've looked at data. We've had a high turnover rate for the last 4 years. And when we look at what we have, we had last year alone 70 teachers who were not renewed for performance. this year we implemented a teacher improvement plan. We have 26 teachers that are not out of 739 non-tenured teachers. That's 4%. That's the lowest we've been in 4 years."

She said the goal is to get down to 0 teachers not renewed for performance.

As for how this stacks up to other systems, we reached out to neighboring school districts but don't have any concrete data back into our newsroom yet.

Ward said the district continues to evaluate how many local teaching units it pays for. It also continues to work on cost-saving to improve its financial situation.

He said in the statement:

"In any school district in Alabama, teaching units at a school are earned based on the total student population.  Our District hires many teachers above what the State of Alabama funds.  These teachers are funded with local money and are critical to providing many of the extras that our students enjoy.  We have those additional teachers at schools across the city.  The District is making every effort to stabilize staffing and maintain as many local units as possible.  The superintendent is working with each principal to seek their input on how they want to utilize their teacher units, both state-earn and locally funded, because they know what is best for students in their schools.

Additionally, we are working on cost saving measures to create better efficiencies in areas such as operations, transportation, software maintenance, federal funds, and contractors. Our new Chief School Financial Officer, Tina Hancock, brings a wealth of knowledge and has a proven track record of developing strategies to solve financial challenges.  Since starting with the District, she has been working with the District’s leadership team on both short-term and long-term solutions."

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