Bayfield community members held a small protest outside the school district administration building this week, opposing both district layoffs and the hiring of an assistant superintendent.
The school district is facing a $1 million budget shortfall after statewide budget cuts prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. In response, district administration cut 13 positions. On the heels of the layoffs, Bayfield restructured its administrative team and created an assistant superintendent position.
The protest Monday included about seven people, mostly community members, who have children in Bayfield schools. No district employees joined the gathering.
“I’ve had district employees, one after another, saying, ‘I support you, but I can’t back you up in person.’ Everybody is afraid for their job,” said Bayfield resident Matt Turner, who has children in the district.
Some community members said the school district is unresponsive to families’ needs. Others wanted to do more than post on social media about their issues with the district.
Turner questioned why Bayfield, a small district, needed an assistant superintendent, especially when other positions are being cut. He said positions should be focused on students, such as the hiring of paraprofessionals.
He had one main message for the district: “I’d like the superintendent to resign.”
The Bayfield Board of Education renewed Kevin Aten’s three-year contract in February.
“I have every plan to fulfill that obligation and to continue to serve the families and students of the Bayfield School District,” Aten said.
In total, Bayfield has cut about $730,000 from personnel and programming budgets to address the budget deficit, according to district records.
The 13 eliminated positions spanned all four schools, district administration, maintenance and transportation. They included language teachers, teaching assistants and paraprofessionals. The employees will finish this school year, but their contracts will not be renewed.
“When I saw the final list of staff terminations. ... I’m not going to lie, I felt sick to my stomach. It’s a terrible thing to see,” said Amy Davlin, school board secretary. “We’re in a small community here. These are folks my son has interacted with since he was an infant.”
The district also cut its curriculum director position as part of its plan to restructure the administrative team. The director of human resources and the director of technology were also reclassified as specialists. The restructuring will save the school district $30,000.
“We knew this was going to be a challenging year. We made the conscious decision to keep the district as whole as we could, knowing we would have to make cuts this spring,” Aten said.
Bayfield hired current high school principal, Leon Hanhardt, as the assistant superintendent. His position, which pays $95,000 a year, will include curriculum director duties and other responsibilities, said Mike Foutz, school board president.
“What we’re really after is a role to help support and mentor the building principals,” Foutz said.
The district began looking into the idea of restructuring the administrative team in early 2020, but the process was derailed by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Overall, people have questioned what’s going on. There’s a couple of things that were not well done, one by myself,” Foutz said. “I missed getting it on the board agenda as a discussion item. We should’ve given the public more time to comment. ... It’s perceived as not being transparent, and it’s perceived as being rushed. I don’t blame people for that.”
Davlin said the district leadership and administrative team recommended the restructuring plan. But there were quite a few things the board could have done better with the process, she said.
The timing was not ideal, she said, and she plans to spend more time scrutinizing the issues that come before the Board of Education.
“There’s things that have been put into motion that have deeply hurt people in our community,” Davlin said. “I’m just doing my very best to listen and make sure I’m reading every piece of communication as carefully as I can to understand how actions at our level are impacting this town.”