By CLAIRE ST. JOHN
In the face of tears, angry words and recriminations, Summerville High School trustees voted last night to terminate seven teachers and reduce hours of non-teaching staff members.
Layoffs include retired Lt. Col. Bill Kuerz and Master Sgt. Jim Esque, the school's Air Force ROTC instructor. But the board, through restructuring and community contributions, still hopes to save the 54-student program for the 2003-04 year.
Rocky Bellew, mother of an ROTC student, told the board she was forming a nonprofit organization to save the program.
"We're hoping to incorporate people from all over the community," Bellew said. "We're serious about this."
ROTC costs the district more than both the $49,000 the U.S. Air Force provides and the equal amount the school is required to provide.
But Summerville trustees said they wanted to save the program and will try to restructure to reduce costs. If restructuring is approved, the district would need the nonprofit group to raise about $31,000 to rehire Kuerz and Esque's jobs and save the ROTC program.
If ROTC is instead eliminated, the cuts made last night should balance a tentative 2003-04 budget of $6,133,000. "This is a very difficult board meeting for us because we're affecting a lot of people's lives," Trustee Linda DuTemple said. "We are going to take action on 15 people tonight. Believe me, we are not taking this lightly."
A pall hung over the school library as trustees reluctantly voted to cut staff. The cuts will save the district $556,664, said Chief Business Official Tonya Roberts.
Among the cuts are seven faculty members Kuerz, Esque, science teacher Lynn Skutches, math teacher Anne Cavagnaro, Long Barn High teacher Mike McLaurin and Mountain High (Pinecrest) teachers Amy Peterson and Michael Gibson.
If school enrollment rises, teachers could be offered their jobs back. But enrollment is down about 200 students to 670 its lowest point in 10 years.
"I think this is the hardest thing we've done in a good, long time," said Trustee Adrienne Alderson. "These are all excellent teachers and it just breaks my heart."