Mercedes schools cut work days for some to save funds

MERCEDES — Mercedes school board trustees approved reducing the days worked for some district employees in a 5-2 vote during a board meeting last Monday evening.

The measure is slated to generate about $150,000 in savings for the district, which has seen its fund balance dwindle to less than $1 million. The school district is in a “financial crisis” and has already decided to not renew contracts for teacher positions in May, interim Superintendent Dr. Filomena Leo said.

During a presentation to the board, certain positions were identified for the move.

For instance, some positions, such as social workers who work about 202 days a year, will be reduced to 187 days, which is similar to teachers. Others would be reduced a number of days depending on the position.

Leo said the move was recommended by staff through meetings with district leadership.

“This is one” of the directions the district can take, she said, noting the recommendations were not slated against any individual but the job position.

The interim superintendent said the plan creates more efficiency in salary compensation and addresses inconsistencies between jobs of similar profiles that are currently working a disparate numbers of days. Reducing days worked across the board could have saved over $236,000 for the district, she said.

However, the affected jobs could “absorb the difference, the cut” to days worked, and an across-the-board measure was not necessary, Leo said.

“This is a beginning, it isn’t the catch-all for all of the problems that we are facing. This is another strategy, it is another step toward financial (solvency) and it is also a step toward building efficiency and accountability in all of the offices and all of the schools in the district,” Leo said.

Trustees Oscar Hernandez and Rachel Treviño voiced their dissent and voted against the decision.

Hernandez said he warned of incurring financial woes about two years ago and was concerned with the “fairness” of such a measure regarding support staff.

“I think if we have to do this, it has to be across the board,” Hernandez said as he was met with applause from some of the audience members.

Vice President Brian Acosta said the measure would address “inconsistencies” and was recommended by the staff. The district has already reduced positions with declining enrollment and can’t continue the same way, he said during the meeting.

“While we don’t want to let people go (or reduce their working days), that’s one of the reasons why we got to be financially responsible in making these decisions,” Acosta said.

He said an across-the-board measure may not address the “discrepancies” in the salaries and appreciated the staff input.

Other board members echoed similar sentiments in making a decision that will affect jobs.

This also drew criticism from the audience, largely made up of employees, concerned taxpayers and former educators.

“They are playing with the livelihood of people here…how do they go about choosing and picking,” Mercedes resident and retired teacher Esmer Guerrero said. The financial issues are long-standing, with years to address the problem, she said.

“They are still doing the same thing,” she added.

The school district has been reaching out to colonias and neighborhoods to recruit students to address declining enrollment.