Riverwalk Academy, a public K-12 charter school in Rock Hill, said it has had to dismiss some of its employees after seeing lower student enrollment this fall.
The school posted a statement to its website that reads:
“We regret to inform the Riverwalk Academy community that we must implement a reduction in force (RIF) because of lower than anticipated enrollment for the 2017-2018 school year.”
The number and type of jobs that were eliminated was not available from the school Monday morning.
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However, the school said in its statement that its staff size is now anticipated to be the same as 2016-17.
Riverwalk Academy had 33 full-time teachers for the 2016-17 school year, and it expected to have 48 for the 2017-18 school year, said former Riverwalk principal Cora Stepp.
Stepp elected to be included in the job elimination, according to the school.
Riverwalk’s interim Head of School Robbie Compton, Ph.D., said the job reduction plan includes several different scenarios, such as the possibility of reclassifying positions, that will determine what jobs and how many are eliminated or changed.
Compton said parents will be notified the same day if any changes are made to their child’s classroom.
Compton said the Riverwalk school board put the plan together during a meeting late last week, after enrollment numbers did not meet projections. He said the plan looks at both essential and non-essential staff.
“At the end of the day, the board wants to make sure the instruction in the classroom and the resources and support are there for teachers to do their job,” Compton said. “It’s all with the student’s best interest in mind.”
Riverwalk Academy’s financial support is based on student enrollment, which for this school year was 511 students, or 167 less than anticipated, according to the statement.
At the end of the 2016-17 school year, Riverwalk had 486 students, said Taylor Fulcher, director of communications for the S.C. Public School District, which includes the state’s public charter schools.
Due to this fall’s lower enrollment, Riverwalk’s budget was shorted $1.7 million, causing the school to have to eliminate positions.
The school’s statement reads:
“Our primary goal in implementing the RIF is to protect the students in our classrooms and the school’s academic program. The administration and Board have taken the following considerations into account in deciding which positions to eliminate: direct student impact, certification status, principal or supervisor’s recommendation, length of service at the school and other factors as appropriate.”
The statement says that employees whose jobs were eliminated will be considered for reemployment before their positions are filled in the future.
The school board accepted Stepp’s proposal to have her position included in the job reductions.
“We are thankful for Ms. Stepp’s service to Riverwalk Academy, and we wish her well personally and professionally in her future endeavors,” the statement reads.
During Stepp’s leadership, the school dismissed several teachers and staff members toward the end of the 2016-17 school year.
Those staff members said they were informed via e-mail and letters on June 9 that their at-will contracts were not being renewed.
Under South Carolina law, the board of trustees of public school districts must give employees notice by May 1 concerning their reemployment, said Fulcher. However, Riverwalk does not have to comply with that state law.
Stepp said at the time of the earlier dismissals that the school could not publicly comment on personnel matters. However, she said, “each spring, Riverwalk Academy assesses the school’s personnel needs for the upcoming school year and makes employment decisions accordingly.”
Compton said Stepp’s position has been reclassified as part of the job reduction plan.
Compton has served as the assistant superintendent for academic programs at the South Carolina Public Charter District and as a transformational coach with the S.C. Department of Education, according to Riverwalk.
“We are happy and welcome him back to the district,” Fulcher said. “We know we will have a school leader aligned with our mission and values.”
Compton, whose wife is a Rock Hill native, said he moved to Rock Hill 10 years ago and has been working in Columbia for the state department. He said the Riverwalk position provided an opportunity to work closer to home and to be a part of the mission of Riverwalk.
“I’ve seen the passion behind it and what it’s grown into,” he said. “I’m excited about where it can head.”
Compton said the lower enrollment numbers could be due to a mix of former students not returning, parents who sign their students up and then change their minds and fewer new students enrolling.
He said the school is looking at those numbers to determine what factors contributed to the current enrollment.
Compton said Riverwalk Academy needs to have a plan to ensure more accurate projections in the future. He said the school board and school leadership need to have a better understanding of what questions to ask and when in order to determine enrollment numbers, budget and other items.
“I don’t think everyone was aware of the severity of the problem,” Compton said. “The board is very aware of it now. It’s one of the things I can assure won’t happen again at Riverwalk.”
Riverwalk canceled a school board meeting scheduled for Monday.
Check back for updates.
Amanda Harris: 803-329-4082