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Survey Finds as Few as 6,500 Teacher Layoffs

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An independent survey has found that far fewer teachers across the country have actually been laid off for the new school year than the two major teachers' organizations had estimated.

In a report released last week, the Bureau of National Affairs (bna), a private, Washington-based publishing firm, put the number of teachers who would be out of work when schools open this month at 6,500.

Officials of both unions dismissed the bna figures; one called them ''ludicrous."

This summer, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) released reports predicting that as many as 55,000 teachers would lose their jobs.

The AFT cited continued declines in enrollment, cutbacks in federal aid to education, and the troubled economy for what it estimated would be an all-time record number of layoffs. It said layoffs would be up 21 percent from the 1981-82 school year--the greatest jump since the Depression, according to the union.

There are approximately 2.1 million public-school teachers in the country.

The BNA assessment, based on some 200 recent press accounts from across the country and calls by BNA reporters and correspondents to a number of school systems--including the 10 largest--counters the unions' estimates.

An editor of the survey said that the BNA counted only announced layoffs and not layoff projections, and did not include substitute teachers or other school person-nel, and suggested that those differences may in part explain the large discrepancy between the two layoff figures.

However, officials of the unions said last week that their projections included only full-time classroom teachers and that they stood by their earlier predictions.

The BNA found that in six of the nation's 10 largest school systems--New York, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, and Dade and Broward counties in Florida--there have been no layoffs and none are expected.

A spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, which represents the vast majority of New York City's public-school teachers, confirmed that the city has not laid off teachers there.

Shortage of Teachers

In Los Angeles, rising enrollments have left the school system with a current shortage of 2,000 teachers, according to Sam Kresner, director of negotiations and staff services for the United Teachers of Los Angeles. The BNA report notes this shortage.

The survey found that among the top 10 school systems, only Detroit, Philadelphia, and Fairfax County in Virginia are laying teachers off for the coming school year.

The systems reporting the most layoffs to the BNA were Philadelphia, with 640; Boston, with 595; and Detroit, with 566.

Massachusetts, according to the BNA report, led the states with 1,034 layoffs this year. The report attributed the high number to the continuing effects of Proposition 2, the state's property-tax limitation.

The economically depressed North Central region had more layoffs than any other part of the country--1,970. Michigan, with 908 layoffs, and Ohio, with 849, followed Massachusetts as the states with the greatest number of teachers who have been fired or furloughed.

Teachers in the Southeast were found to have been least affected by layoffs, with only 108 losing their jobs.

In addition, the BNA report noted that nearly twice as many AFT members as NEA members were laid off, although the NEA is far larger. About 1,500 NEA members were furloughed, compared with 2,800 for the AFT, according to the survey. The majority of the AFT's members work in the financially troubled urban school systems in the Northeast and North Central regions.

The 1.6 million-member NEA has reported that its membership has dropped by 100,000 within the past two years, largely as a result of teacher layoffs, according to organization officials.

James G. Ward, director of research for the AFT, called the BNA report "ludicrous."

"They based their figures on a survey of 1 percent of the school districts in the country," he added. "I guess they figure there are no layoffs in the other 99 percent. I know their numbers are way off in some districts--St. Louis, for one."

The BNA reports that 298 teachers have been furloughed in that city. According to the personnel office of the St. Louis school system, 524 teachers had lost their jobs by the time school opened last week.

Accuracy Questioned

John Dunlop, manager of negotiations for the NEA, which represents 80 percent of the public-school teachers in the country, also questioned the accuracy of the BNA figures, noting that they are based on a survey of only a few hundred of the nation's 15,500 school systems.

"We think the figure will be about 50,000," he said. "But there is no doubt that estimating layoffs is an extremely imprecise thing."

The NEA bases its estimates on statewide enrollment projections and layoff trends from previous years.

While acknowledging that his organization's survey does not include all layoffs around the country, Michael Levin-Epstein, an editor of the report, said it includes major layoff cases that should indicate the national trend.

"We're saying this is a rock-bottom number," he added. "The burden of proof is on the teacher unions to show where the difference between 6,500 and 55,000 is."

Mr. Levin-Epstein also cited several reasons for the smaller-than-expected number of teacher furloughs, including:

An increasing tendency of school systems to reduce their staff sizes by attrition rather than layoffs.

A willingness on the part of teachers' unions--in Michigan, for example--to accept wage freezes in return for job security.

A growing public consensus that programs and not teaching positions should be cut when school systems are faced with enrollment declines and financial difficulties.

The loss of fewer teaching positions than expected as a result of cuts in federal aid to education.

The use in some school systems and states of early retirement, "buy-out," and "job-sharing" plans.

First Year

This is the first year that the BNA has conducted its own research on teacher layoffs. It has reported layoff figures annually in the past, but relied on the teachers' unions for its information.

The BNA is a 53-year-old, employee-owned company that publishes more than 60 daily, weekly, and monthly reports on a range of topics, including politics, labor, law, economics, the environment, and national security.

The teacher-layoff survey will appear in the Sept. 6 issue the BNA's Government Employee Relations Report.

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