Teaching aide job cut

PARKERSBURG – A teacher’s aide whose job is being eliminated through a reduction-in-force asked the school board Monday to reconsider.

The Wood County Board of Education, however, unanimously voted to eliminate her position this spring.

The reduction-in-force, or RIF, is intended to bring the school system in line with state funding figures for the 2014-15 school year. Those numbers are based off student enrollment which has been declining in recent years.

Sherry Bunner, a teacher’s aide, autistic program, requested Monday’s hearing after her position was placed on the district’s RIF list. State law allows for employees to request hearings and to call witnesses in their defense.

Bunner requested the hearing be closed following a recommendation by Denise Spatafore, an attorney with Dinsmore and Shohl, who was representing the Wood County Schools administration.

Parents of one of the students Bunner works with attended the meeting to act as witnesses. Spatafore said because their testimony would include information about a special education student, the administration would want to keep that testimony behind closed doors.

Bunner did not have legal representation at Monday’s hearing, but agreed to the closed-door session. Board President Tim Yeater asked Bunner if she understood her legal rights and had been provided the opportunity to seek representation. Both Bunner and Assistant Superintendent Mike Fling, who oversees the district’s service personnel, said yes.

In addition to the parents of the student, one other adult, a teacher, testified on Bunner’s behalf. The names of those testifying were not released.

The board listened to testimony for more than an hour Monday, and after returning to open session board members praised Bunner, the parents, educators and administrators in attendance.

The board then voted 5-0 to eliminate the position.

“This is the most difficult decision we get put in as board members,” said board member John Marlow. “You do have a jewel in Mrs. Bunner and she has set the bar very high.”

Board members and administrators indicated Bunner could possibly get her job back if positions opened up through retirements and resignations, and encouraged Bunner to apply for those positions.

“I’m getting my job back, I know I will,” Bunner said.

The school board will vote to approve the finalized district RIF lists during its regular session tonight. Last week the school board deadlocked on a vote to uphold a reduction-in-force for a county-assigned attendance worker.

Following a two-hour-long hearing, the board voted 2-2 to uphold Superintendent Pat Law’s recommendation to eliminate the position. Because of the deadlock the motion failed and attendance and home services consultant Joe Britton retained his job.