Departing staff expected to benefit school budget (6/18/09)

New hires chosen from massive applicant pool

June 18, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

With nine teachers and staff leaving the Williston School District, administrators have been busy searching for replacements from an immense pool of applicants. Yet for all the time the administration has spent and must still devote to the hiring process, the new employees could save the district tens of thousands of dollars in the upcoming school year.

Since April, District Principal Walter Nardelli said his administration has been hiring new teachers to replace those not returning next school year. Seven staff members are retiring, while two others are pursuing careers elsewhere. The district has already hired two new team members for Swift House; former teacher Jason Lamb has left to pursue a master’s degree and longtime teacher Al Myers passed away unexpectedly in April.

Positions have also been filled for retiring Allen Brook School teachers Jane Wilson, Nancy Leonard, and Jeanne Desilets said Principal John Terko. Only Charlie Wilson’s technology educator position has yet to be filled, Nardelli said.

Nardelli also announced this week that John Duncan, a Williston teacher for 42 years, retired at the close of school last week. Duncan’s upper house teaching position will not be filled, Nardelli said. A larger-than-average number of eighth graders will move up to Champlain Valley Union High School in the fall. Full House, where Duncan taught, will therefore revert back to a four-person team, Nardelli said.

Record applications

Terko said the response to job openings was enormous this year. When he advertised for a third and fourth grade teacher in April to replace Desilets’ position at Allen Brook, he received 270 applications. That’s 150 more than that he would normally see for that type of position and the most he can remember.

“I was shocked,” Terko said.

Thanks to the large number of applications, Terko was able to find teachers to replace Leonard and Wilson, as well.

Terko said he received applications from all 50 states, and even a few from the United Kingdom. To pare down the vast number of applications, Terko said he set up a list of criteria to consider, which included experience and licensure. After narrowing the applicants to a list of 50 or 60, a committee picked eight people to interview.

“When you want to make sure you have a good teacher and the right fit, you want to spend the time reading every one,” Terko said.

Terko said there are a few reasons for the high number of applications. A slow economy and shifting 401ks are keeping teachers from retiring early. And an influx of recent college graduates with teaching degrees creates a bubble, Terko said. Add the fact that many schools across the country have cut teachers and it’s not unthinkable to receive double the normal amount of applications.

“Certainly, it’s all economy driven,” Terko said.

Budgetary changes

In terms of next school year’s budget, Nardelli said he had taken into account three retirements when formulating the budget earlier this winter. Though it’s too early to tell how much money will be saved by the more recent departures, Nardelli expects a large surplus in the budget. When longtime teachers retire at higher pay grades and new teachers are hired at lower pay grades, it changes the numbers, he said. Another factor is whether the new teachers will sign on for the district’s health care plan.

“It’s complicated because we don’t know the final numbers yet,” Nardelli said. “We might not know until September.”

Excess budget money is placed in a fund balance for emergency purposes and to go toward projects that need immediate attention. For instance, the School Board agreed at this Monday’s meeting to place $50,000 from this year’s budget surplus in the school’s construction fund to replace windows and carpets. Another $50,000 went to offset the school’s food service fund. The fund experienced a shortfall this year, though Nardelli said the deficit was half of last year’s.

School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth said it’s always good to have a surplus at the end of a budget year for emergencies. As for next year’s budget, “we’re in a better place than we thought we’d be in,” Worth said.