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Stacy Hughes is one the the teachers in the Morgan County school system who may be impacted by the property tax referendum next week. If the referendum does not pass, Hughes and other non-tenured teachers could lose their jobs.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Stacy Hughes is one the the teachers in the Morgan County school system who may be impacted by the property tax referendum next week. If the referendum does not pass, Hughes and other non-tenured teachers could lose their jobs.

Jobs on line at county schools?
Rejection of property tax could mean larger class sizes, cuts of non-tenured teachers

By Bayne Hughes
Bayne Hughes 340-2432

It has been about 14 years since West Morgan Middle Schoolteacher Stacy Hughes worried about job security. But her worries are back, ahead of a Jan. 16 property tax vote.

She spent 15 years with Decatur City Schools but, after Decatur eliminated her reading coach position at Oak Park Middle School, she gave up tenure to move to West Morgan Middle School, nearer to her home and two children.

Hughes and other non-tenured teachers are putting their faith in Morgan County voters renewing a 7.5 mill property tax.

Losing that revenue "would be devastating," said Hughes, who is in her second year as a seventh- and eighth-grade reading teacher. "It's been 14 years since I've had to worry about my job, but I'm 40 years old now with a family and a mortgage."

Failure of the tax, first approved in 1957 at 5.5 mills and then increased in 1979 to 7.5 mills, would mean a loss of about $4.5 million. The issue does not apply to Decatur and Hartselle, which have their own schools systems.

School officials said Morgan County would face teacher cuts, larger classes and possible elimination of extracurricular activities like sports and band.

Finance Director Rodger Spillers said the Morgan County school board would almost surely have to cut 60 teacher units funded with about $3.3 million in local tax dollars.

School boards in Alabama facing similar budget cuts usually automatically non-renew the contracts of its non-tenured personnel at the end of the school year. The boards, which can't cut tenured teachers, then rehire to fill positions on an as-needed basis.

Matt Adams is in his second year on his first job as an English teacher at West Morgan High School. He doesn't have a family to support, but he has bills to pay, and he likes working at West Morgan.

"As a non-tenured teacher, I'm on the bottom of the totem pole of who gets to stay and who gets to go," Adams said. "I would hate to have to start this deal all over now that I've gotten to know the faculty and people here."

While their jobs are secure, tenured teachers like Sparkman Elementary's Jana Byrd could see their classes swell.

After several of her students moved out of the school district, Byrd is enjoying an unusually small class of 14 this year. But attention to each student could diminish tremendously with the tax failure.

Currently, the system uses many of these locally funded teacher units to keep classes small. According to interim Director of Elementary Education Ann Vest, the county's kindergarten, first-, second- and third-grade classes average about 20 students. Growth in the lower grades keeps the county above the preferred 18 students per class level.

Fourth, fifth and sixth grades average about 25 per class, right at the preferred level. Middle and high school class sizes were not available, although Vest said principals try to keep classes between 25 and 30.

Byrd, a five-year veteran, said her classes usually have between 18 and 21 students. She said smaller classes allow her to build a relationship with each child and better meet their needs.

"It's amazing how much of a difference three more children make," Byrd said. "(With a small class) I'm able to give more individual instruction. I can learn their strengths and weaknesses, and their learning styles."

Large classes make it particularly difficult on the struggling student that Byrd said, "needs so much more individual instruction."

In the study "How Class Size Makes a Difference: What the Research Says," author C.M. Achilles, a professor in education administration at Eastern Michigan and Seton Hall universities, concludes "students in small classes improve in all subject areas."

Achilles concludes that smaller classes sizes improve academics, behavior and discipline, citizenship and participation outside of school, and societal development.

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