Lower-Than-Expected Convention Revenue Prompts Layoffs at School

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In an attempt to remain fiscally sound in the face of the economic slowdown, the National School Boards Association has laid off a number of high-level employees, including a nationally recognized expert on educational technology.

James A. Mecklenburger, who has headed the N.S.B.A.'s Institute for the Transfer of Technology to Education since its inception in the late 1980's, was scheduled to leave his pest early this month.

Six others on the 130-member N.S.B.A. Staff were laid off in the cost-cutting measure, the organization's first such action in 14 years.

Mr. Mecklenburger last week described the parting as amicable and said he understood that the layoffs-which included abolishing a two-person public-relations office--resulted from a lower-than-expected turnout at the group's annual convention, held in San Francisco in mid-April.

The convention generates "the lion's share" of the organization's $17.5-million annual budget, according to Thomas A. Shannon, the N.S.B.A.'s executive director.

Mr. Shannon blamed the disappointing attendance, both by members and exhibitors, on what he called "the four financial horsemen of the Apocalypse"--the recession, state revenue shortfalls, the Persian Gulf war, and the concurrent fears of a terrorist threat to travel.

Receipts from the annual meeting came in $500,000 lower than expected, Mr. Shannon said, "and we had to do something about it so that we can remain fiscally sound."

The association, which represents the vast majority of some 15,000 local school boards nationwide, entered the new fiscal year in the black, he added.

The I.T.T.E., which under Mr. Mecklenburger has earned a reputation as an authoritative voice on the application of technology to K-12 teaching, will continue to operate under Cheryl Williams, Mr. Mecklenburger's co-director.

Mr. Mecklenburger said he was considering several options for continuing his work and might establish a consulting firm.

No Layoffs Elsewhere

The layoffs at the N.S.B.A., particularly that of Mr. Mecklenburger, came as a shock to headquarters employees of several other national education associations.

Spokesmen for those organizations said, however, that they were not planning similar actions.

"We're in pretty solid shape," said June Million, a spokesman for the 26,000-member National Association of Elementary School Principals.

She conceded that membership in the organization has "leveled off' this year and that the slowdown may be due to the faltering economy.

But, she added, "prudent budgeting," combined with aggressive efforts to enlist corporate sponsorship, will probably allow the fewer than 30 members of the organization's headquarters staff to ride out the recession in relative security.

Gary Marx, a spokesman for the American Association of School Administrators, said that while the organization was aware of the "softness" in the national economy, "we've tried to deal with [it] by budgeting prudently."

But he also said that projected attendance at the organization's annual meeting, scheduled for February in San Diego, may be "incrementally less this year."

Similarly, William Martin, the director of communications for the National Education Association, said that the failing economy has had little effect on the annual budget of the 2-million-member organization, which is funded largely through the collection of union dues.

"As long as membership rolls along, we'll be able to afford the budget," he said.

Mr. Shannon said that, unlike many other national organizations, the N.S.B.A. cannot rely heavily on membership dues to fund its activities. Member dues constitute slightly more than 1 percent of the association's annual revenue, he noted.

Vol. 11, Issue 01, Page 20

Published in Print: September 4, 1991, as Lower-Than-Expected Convention Revenue Prompts Layoffs at School
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