The Pickerington Board of Education on Jan. 24 approved $13-million in cuts officials say are needed to balance the district's budget for the 2011-12 school year.

The Pickerington Board of Education on Jan. 24 approved $13-million in cuts officials say are needed to balance the district's budget for the 2011-12 school year.

Some 87 teachers - 52 from kindergarten through sixth-grade and 35 seventh-grade through high school instructors - will lose their jobs as a result.

Additionally, school hours will be changed, seven district administrators' positions will be eliminated and 11 other administrative employees will have their hours reduced.

The action comes as the board and school officials attempt to stopgap a hole in the district's 2011-12 school year budget they said is being brought on by an estimated 13-percent decline in state funding, as well as recent drops in local property tax collections and a lack of job growth.

"We aren't here to reduce people who aren't doing a great job," said Lisa Reade, PLSD school board president. "These are our friends and our neighbors and people who are doing a great job. But in the end, we need to balance the budget."

The board unanimously approved recommendations made by PLSD Superintendent Karen Mantia, treasurer Dan Griscom and other administrators. As a result, there will be cuts or changes to the district's transportation services, administrative personnel, licensed and certified personnel who serve the entire district, licensed and certified employees for kindergarten through sixth grade and seventh through 12th grade and classified personnel.

Beginning next school year, bus service for kindergarten students living within a two-mile radius of their schools will be eliminated, as will all district-paid field trips. The district's DARE program, which seeks to educate elementary and middle school students about the dangers of drug addiction, also will be eliminated.

School hours will change to more efficiently coordinate busing and class time, Mantia said.

Currently, high school classes are held from 7:22 a.m. to 2:10 p.m., junior high is in session from 7:15 a.m. to 1:55 p.m., middle school is held from 8:10 a.m. to 2:55 p.m. and elementary classes take place from 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

The 2011-12 school hours will be 7:20 a.m. to 1:40 p.m. for high school students, 8 a.m. to 2:20 p.m. for junior high students, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for middle-schoolers and 9:40 a.m. to 3:40 p.m. for elementary students.

In addition to teachers and administrators, the board approved the elimination of four nurses, a social worker, a behavioral intervention specialist, seven special education teachers and one physical education instructor who serve the entire district.

Art, music, physical education, media and technology were hit hardest at the K-6 level, with 39 positions being cut. Board and district officials said education programs will survive despite the cuts in teachers, as they sought to preserve classes and stretch employees.

At the K-6 level, they said, music, art, phys ed, media and technology instructors likely will travel to different buildings to teach.

At the 7-12 level, officials said, the restructuring of the school day to extend classes from 40 minutes to 50 minutes will allow teachers to spend more time on individual topics, and many teachers will go from teaching four class periods per day to six.

Fee increases and possible program or personnel cuts to school-sponsored athletics weren't discussed at the meeting, but district officials said $850,000 to $1-million in athletic programming reductions would be announced at the board's Feb. 14 meeting.

The Pickerington Education Association, which represents approximately 700 PLSD teachers, nurses, school counselors, social workers and media specialists, didn't comment at Monday's meeting, but did issue a press release about the cuts.

In the release, union president Carla Fultz noted that PEA members last spring agreed to freeze their base salaries and accepted reductions in health insurance coverage to help the district though its financial crisis. She also said Pickerington has a cost-effective district that spends less per pupil than many similar-sized and performing districts in the state, but the added cuts will create greater classroom challenges.

"Our members are devastated by the program cuts that will clearly affect the quality of the educational programs that Pickerington offers," Fultz stated in the press release. "We understand that deep cuts are necessary to balance the budget. We are committed to work collaboratively with the district and our community to address these financial challenges."

Several members of the community also spoke at Monday's meeting. Some accused the board of being more concerned about protecting athletic programming and staff than academic classes and teachers, while others said more administrative positions should have been eliminated to save teachers.

"I hope you guys sleep well knowing that (teachers) will lose their jobs," said William Scott Jerrell, a Pickerington High School Central senior, who was asked to leave the meeting for speaking out of order.

District officials now will focus on the issue of a new levy, which they maintain is needed to make up for revenues that weren't secured last November, when an 8-mill replacement levy that would have generated $7.586-million in new revenue failed by 130 votes.

The school board is expected to make a decision regarding a potential May levy on Friday, Jan. 28, during a special meeting to be held at 8:30 a.m. at Heritage Elementary.

Griscom said he is exploring several levy options, including combining two old levies that would yield 8.9 mills and cost homeowners $272.56 per $100,000 valuation.

Several board members said they preferred to put an issue on the ballot early enough so that a follow-up levy still could be sought before the end of the year, in the event the first levy bid is unsuccessful. In addition to May, a special election could take place in August or another levy could be placed before voters in November.

Regardless of the levy decision, Mantia the cuts announced Monday are likely to be permanent, even if a future levy is passed.

"Based on the needs we know we have today, our intention would not be to bring any of these positions back," she said.