Faculty, parents and students were present at the Monday, February 27 meeting of the Nashville Community School Board in support of English Teacher Bethany McQuiston, whose position was eliminated.
By Alex Haglund
At the February meeting of the Nashville Community High School Board, held on the evening of Monday, February 27, the board voted to approve a reduction in force, eliminating the teaching position held by Bethany McQuiston, English teacher.
In addition to the board and administration, the meeting was attended by numerous other members of the NCHS faculty, joined by community members and former students, present on behalf of McQuiston.
At the outset of the meeting, board President Shawn Cook asked Superintendent Ernie Fowler to speak. Fowler said that he would give a report over the district’s finances, saying, “our education fund is projected to have a deficit spending of some $425,000 as based our initial projections this year.”
The reason for deficit spending in this school year and others is due to state payment issues. Fowler said that while he hoped the district would end the school year on slightly better terms than the projected budget predicted, with the way the state of Illinois has Fowler said, “it could actually be worse.”
An overall reduction in enrollment has made it so that the NCHS district is being affected not just by how much the state chooses to pay. “Our general state aid has been reduced significantly over the past several years,” Fowler continued, saying that the overall problem was not just troubles from the state of Illinois, but from a drop in enrollment of about 100 students as well.
“During the 2010-2011 school year, we were receiving nearly $1.5-million each year in general state aid; that equates out to approximately $134,079 per month,” said Fowler. By the 2015-2016 school year though, “that figure dropped to $705,175…that translates out to a monthly general state aid payment of $64,106.”
Fowler stated that the monthly payroll in the district was $170,000 per month over 12 months, and said that education fund expenses for the month of February were $279,013.
“With our hands tied in revenue generation,” Fowler said, “we are left with cutting expenses.”
There were several measures mentioned by Fowler that were being taken to reduce expenses at the district already. He stated that this was an attempt to shave approximately $175,000 off of the budget by the end of the fiscal year in June.
Along with the RIF, these measures included:
• Eliminating one cook’s position, reducing the staff to two full-time cooks.
• One teaching position will be eliminated after a retirement at the end of the year.
• Fowler recommended that the guidance office be reduced from two full time counselors to one-and-a-half by the 2017-2018 school year.
• Accepted the resignation of a classroom aide
• Fowler transferred his administrative assistant to the classroom aide position and would not be filling the administrative assistant position for the 2017-2018 school year.
• Switched electrical suppliers to obtain cheaper rates.
• Contacting an insurance consultant to reduce insurance expenses for the district.
• Eliminating the freshman boys and girls basketball coaching, freshman football coaches, and freshman volleyball coaches positions.
Voices For McQuiston
Two visitors to the meeting spoke on behalf of McQuiston following Fowler’s report – Sheila Burcham and Jordi Harre.
Burcham described McQuiston as a friend of her family, a mentor to one of her daughters and a friend to another, but she stated that she was also a concerned parent and citizen, and a member of the financial community who understood the position Fowler was in.
“I cannot say enough about what she has done not only in the classroom, but also outside of it, as a mentor,” Burcham said, describing McQuiston’s volunteerism, coaching, and the general wise counsel she gave students.
Another reason Burcham gave that the district should keep McQuiston around was that she was close to the younger generation, she spoke their language, but also taught them important skills they would need if they wanted to succeed in the working world – a world where someone like Burcham might hire, or not hire, those students, possibly based on what they learned at NCHS.
McQuiston’s mentoring was brought up by Jordi Harre, a recent NCHS graduate who had been a student of McQuiston’s and said that she still came by sometimes to visit with her.
Harre said that after an app came out which allowed users to circulate comments anonymously, her and a friend were made fun of by others at the school. When Harre came to school that day, dreading even walking through the doors, she said that she arrived to find a small gift basket waiting for her (her friend did too), because McQuiston had acted to preempt the negativity Harre was experiencing.
Harre said that she was not alone in seeing McQuiston as a trusted adult, an advisor, or a even a friend. “A lot of people will go to her just because she is so easy to talk to,” Harre stated.
“Tonight, it is with regret that I will recommend a reduction in force (RIF),” Fowler said to the board and all of those present at the meeting. “I get no joy out of recommending a reduction in force or a reduction in services.”
Fowler stated that his action was a recommendation though and that, “the ultimate decision is with our board of education.”
Following a closed session of about an hour-and-a-half, the school board returned and voted unanimously to approve the resolution for a RIF of Bethany McQuiston, who will be honorably dismissed at the end of the 2016-2017 school year.