School Board members voted to enact a third round of cuts and lay off Bellview Elementary School's principal Monday night, in a decision that left several of the 60 audience members in tears.
Christine McCollom, the principal, watched as eight community members begged the board to keep her at Bellview and, after, as the board voted 4-0 to let her go at the end of this school year.
"I can't, in good conscience, not make the cuts now and try to have some money in reserve so that we're never in this position again," said board member Heidi Parker.
Board member Amy Patton abstained from the vote because she "wasn't prepared to vote 'yes'" to the layoffs, she said.
"I understand the need for the cuts, but I don't support this particular cut," she said.
McCollom, who has served as principal for three years, will be replaced by senior administrator Michelle Zundel, whose current position as director of education will be eliminated.
A part-time educational assistant, a district office employee, a part-time secretary and a part-time custodian will also lose their jobs.
The third round of cuts will save the district about $391,000. The board has already eliminated $4 million from the district's budget in an effort to corral spending as state funding for schools contracts.
However, the district shouldn't need to make any more cuts this spring, because its budget is based on an estimate that the state would give schools $5.8 billion next year, instead of the $6 billion legislators are now aiming for, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said.
She advised the board to save any extra money the district may receive, so that if funding clenches up again, the district may not have to resort to more layoffs.
"I would hesitate to recommend to the board or to the budget committee that we try to allocate that 6.0 billion level at this time," she said. "I don't think we should change how we've developed our budget for the next year."
Bellview parents upset
Di Chiro took heat at the meeting from parents who were upset about her recommendation that the board lay off McCollom.
The superintendent's announcement last month that another administrator "drew lots" in her office to determine McCollom should be let go — and that no one else witnessed the event — angered some parents of Bellview students and community members who felt McCollom had been unfairly singled out.
"I feel very uncomfortable that the two individuals that it impacts the greatest were not present for that," said Amanda Ray, who has a child at Bellview.
Di Chiro said that although the process was fair, she wants to remove the provision in administrators' contracts that require drawing lots when two people have the same amount of seniority.
"I'm going to work with my administrative team to eliminate that because I don't think that's how we should be determining administrative positions in the district," she said.
City Councilor Greg Lemhouse, who has two children at Bellview, asked the board to keep McCollom as principal, in order to preserve the success of the school.
"As a fellow elected representative, I certainly know how difficult it is to make these budget decisions," he said. "But I can tell you losing her is losing a resource we're not going to be able to replace."
Fallout from vote
McCollom left the meeting after the vote, surrounded by a cadre of friends, and declined to comment for this story.
The decision to lay off McCollom, who is pregnant and married with one child, shook the board members, they said.
"This is probably the most difficult decision that I have had to make," said board member Ruth Alexander.
As audience members wiped away tears and began to disperse, Parker, the board member, asked them to keep the children at Bellview in mind.
"I would hope that as parents and as staff members you will try to work together in this difficult time and be an example for our children, even though it's hard to watch something that you didn't want to see happen," she said.
Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or email@example.com.