Rockingham Co. Schools to reassign employees in light of 36 position cuts, including counseling staff

Rockingham County schools will cut eight behavior support assistants and a part-time counselor position across the district next year along with more than 30 other position cuts and reductions to rectify a budget shortfall of millions of dollars.

Superintendent Larry Shifflett announced the cuts in a video message to RCPS staff yesterday, which The Citizen obtained via a FOIA request. He did not respond to The Citizen’s interview requests before publication of this article.

Shifflett said in the video that for everyone whose position gets cut, RCPS will offer them another role, but it may not be the exact job or at the same school.

“They will still have employment. They will still be able to maintain their salary and their benefits,” Shifflett said.

The cuts are a result of a $6.5 million decrease in funding from the state, and RCPS has reduced its spending by $4.2 million to cover that deficit. The county school board passed its 2024-25 budget on March 25, with Jackie Lohr as the only dissenting vote.

The biggest groups on the chopping block are counselors and behavior support assistants and technology assistants, together making up more than two-thirds of the affected positions.

In total, 36 positions will either be “reassigned” or not renewed, Shifflett said in the video. That includes a part-time elementary school counselor, five behavior support assistants and another behavior assistant, four restorative practice specialists, a work-based learning coordinator, five workforce redesign assistants and 19 technology assistants.

At the same time, RCPS is looking to hire nearly 50 more teachers and assistants and add new school-safety staff.

Shifflett said in a press release on Friday that RCPS reduced spending by $1.4 million in other areas before considering position cuts, but it was still necessary due to the decreased state funding.

While RCPS is cutting eight behavior support assistants, there will still be 28 across the division to meet recommended student-to-counselor ratios at all schools. Shifflett said the district is still placing “significant emphasis” on students’ mental and behavioral health next year.

“The importance of students’ mental health and behaviors cannot be overstated, as they

significantly influence their academic performance, personal development, and overall

well-being,” Shifflett said. “There is a misperception that RCPS will no longer support our students’ mental wellness and behaviors. Rest assured, this is not the case.”

Other soon-to-be-vacant roles, like those where people are retiring or leaving this year, will be left empty or “cut by attrition.” These include one librarian, a literacy coach, a technology specialist, an instructional technology resource teacher and two other behavior support assistants.

More vacant positions could also be cut, Shifflett said, adding that the cuts were necessary to prioritize budget items like school safety and improving special education and English Learning services. The district also had to find funds to cover 3% raises, as mandated by the current version of the state budget.

“We have a significant shortfall from the state, and we want to be able to offer raises to our employees and add additional staff for SPED and EL needs,” Shifflett said in the video.

Positions aren’t the only cuts to RCPS schools. There will be less spending in technology and instructional support, transportation and maintenance projects, too. 

Some schools will forgo technology replacements, like classroom iMacs and Chromebooks for students. The instructional department will see a $700,000 decrease spread over professional development, software and an average 10% staffing reduction. Academic support professional development and services will be reduced by $75,000.

The district will also save $300,000 by not purchasing new buses and $200,000 by pausing some maintenance projects, but Shifflett said he hopes to use some end-of-year funding to cover those expenses.

Even with extensive cuts, the budget still depends on county funding. Shifflett presented the budget to the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors last week, requesting an additional $6 million to cover the decreased funding from the commonwealth. That brings the schools’ total local funding request to nearly $80 million — 45% of the school budget — which has yet to be approved.

“I feel very confident that they will,” Shifflett said.

Editors note: This article was updated to add additional information following a press release from Rockingham County Schools sent to local media on Friday evening.

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