BENTON HARBOR – Jobs are on the chopping block for Benton Harbor teachers. Because the district is millions of dollars in debt, 20 teachers could be laid off in the next month.
Layoffs are just one of many steps the superintendent is taking to save money and avoid a state takeover.
Superintendent Leonard Seawood said the district is right on task with what the state wants them to do. From consolidating schools to teacher layoffs and pay cuts, he feels these moves will get them out of the $18 million deficit hole they're in right now.
"Immediately before Christmas we're probably going to pink slip four teachers," Seawood said.
It's something no one wants to hear during the holidays.
"For us to be talking about pink slips and concessions for our faculty and staff it's always a difficult time," he said.
But Seawood says it’s the district's only option.
"20 is the target number, but they're probably going to be more than that," said Anthony Jett, school board president.
Layoffs are expected to impact teachers from the first two schools consolidating into other Benton Harbor schools: Fairplain West Elementary and Fairplain Renaissance Middle School.
Because the district can't afford buyouts – they are hoping some teachers will resign on their own account.
"Are we interested in voluntary layoffs? If it will save any jobs, absolutely," Seawood said.
But it's not all good news for the teachers left. The superintendent has asked all teachers and administrative staff to take a 10 percent pay cut – one he would take as well.
The teachers union is discussing that tentative agreement right now. But will 10 percent actually make a positive dent in their budget?
"Ten percent probably half of the year, we're looking at $700,000 to $800,000," Seawood said.
He says it's enough to keep the state from taking over the schools. And board members said these continuous cuts will get them back on track.
"We still got more cuts to make, the toughest days are still ahead," Jett said.
Layoffs aren't final until the board votes on the proposal. They're expecting to vote at the next board meeting, which is Tuesday.
Pending board approval of the layoffs Tuesday, teachers who will be cut in this first round will be notified Wednesday.
In the meantime, the superintendent and the board will continue to wait to hear from the teacher's union on this agreement.
The board says expect more layoffs next summer; that's when it plans to consolidate more schools.