CHEROKEE — The USD 247 Board of Education announced its intent to not renew the contracts of four teachers at a special meeting Wednesday.

The board approved resolutions stating its intent to non-renew Rhonda Coltrane, Ben Coomes, Meagan Godfrey and Cyndee Martin. The non-renewals will not be official until the teachers have been allowed to go through an appeal process.

“They now have an opportunity to appeal, then the final resolutions wouldn’t take place until the next board meeting,” Superintendent Brad Miner said. “This is our intent to notify them that they will not be renewed.”

At Monday’s regular meeting, the board voted not to renew the contracts for seven classified staff, accepted the resignation of Communications Agent Chris Wilson and accepted the retirement of Custodian Carolyn Hobson, Maintenance Lead Brent Imhof, and teachers Ann Cook, Debra Lindbloom and Kathy Spahn.

The reduction in force at USD 247 comes in the face of significant cuts in state funding under the new school finance formula, which is expected to move away from the block grant system and return to a per-pupil system of funding.

The Southeast school district has experienced declining enrollment over the past few decades, but the block grant system kept funding steady despite the decline.

“The block grant formula used old enrollment numbers, so maximum-allowed funding was frozen even though enrollment declined,” Wilson said. “This gave time to allow staff to leave on their own through retirement or to seek opportunities elsewhere, usually closer to their own hometown.”

Wilson said the district was hoping for more time, as 17 teachers are eligible for early retirement over the next nine years, not including support staff. With more time, the district could have reduced force naturally through retirement and not refilling positions.

The new school formula proposed by state legislatures for this coming school year returns to a per pupil basis and rolls three years worth of enrollment decline at Southeast into a single year’s worth of drop in funding, a total of about $700,000. Just a few weeks ago the district learned their health insurance will increase nearly 20 percent, close to another $100,000. That means the district has to reduce $800,000 from its budget for the upcoming 2017-18 school year.

Through the combination of shuffling some expenses out of the general fund, the savings of other miscellaneous expenses and with five staff members taking early retirement and their positions not being replaced, the district freed up about $400,000.

“Administrators and teachers worked together to provide input to the board on a process to use for determining a reduction in force,” Miner said. “We worked together to find the best solution in what has been a difficult situation.”

The district is required to notify teachers of its intent to not renew by May 19, but Miner wanted to give everyone as much notice as possible.

“At Southeast, our students come first,” Miner said. “And we will continue to invest in today’s Lancers, always with an eye towards the future, while remaining within the means provided by our elected officials.”

— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at choener@morningsun.net or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.