Up to 50,000 Teachers Face Layoff As School Opens

By Susan G. Foster — September 07, 1981 7 min read

Not nearly as many teachers will be out of jobs this fall as some earlier estimates indicated, but declining enrollments and local budget constraints are taking a toll on the work force in some parts of the country.

At the same time, the shortage of certified math, science, bilingual and vocational-education teachers has some school districts resorting to emergency licensing measures to ensure that their programs involving such teachers will continue.

Last spring, the national teachers’ unions estimated that 100,000 teachers across the country were likely to lose their jobs. The situation, it was predicted, would be the worst since the Great Depression.

Layoff estimates have now been revised downward by the unions, generally reflecting less severe cuts than expected in federal and state appropriations to education. And it now appears the total reduction in teaching force will not exceed 50,000.

Federal budget reductions in education programs, initially targeted by the Reagan Administration at 25 percent, are now in the 10 percent range and for the most part will not be felt until the 1982 school year.

“There’s a loss, but it’s not as bleak as we thought,” said Lyle Hamilton, a National Education Association (N.E.A.) spokesman, “nor as great as was projected.”

The two unions representing teachers currently agree on the approximate number of actual layoffs and acknowledge that the figure has been decreasing.

Scott Widmeyer, a spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers (A.F.T.), estimates that 44,000 will be laid off, primarily because of local budget problems. Mr. Hamilton says it appears that the reduction in force will amount to some 40,000 to 50,000 teachers.

But the situation varies from place to place.

Certified Teachers Needed

In Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, and Lincoln, Neb., for example, staff reductions have been accomplished mainly through normal retirements and resignations, and relatively few teachers have been laid off.

In other areas-most notably Texas, Georgia, New York, and Florida- there are still unfilled positions created by the demand for certified teachers in fields where shortages exist, and school districts are recruiting.

In Philadelphia and Boston, two school systems experiencing serious financial problems, as many as 3,700 teachers may be laid off, and substantial program cuts are likely. Following is the situation on teacher layoffs in a number of cities around the nation:

  • Philadelphia. School officials notified about 2,700 teachers--out of the total teacher work force of 13,000--that the system will not have the money to keep them on the payroll. Despite a 3-to-4-percent annual average attrition rate in the teacher force, the $223-million deficit in the school budget required that both teaching positions and programs be cut.
  • Boston. Proposition 2112 and a Byzantine financial crisis in the city’s education budget prompted the school board to send layoff notices last spring to 2,300 of Boston’s approximately 5,000 teachers. Last month, about 960 of those received confirmation of the layoff. Approximately 710 were tenured teachers; the rest were provisional.
  • Detroit. About 300 low-seniority teachers have been laid off, according to Stephen D. Chennault, director of public affairs and communications. Detroit has approximately 9,000 teachers, and additional layoffs were averted when voters supported an extra millage referendum. So far, teacher layoffs have not become an annual problem, Mr. Chennault said. Another millage request will be put before voters in November.
  • Dade County/Miami, Fla. There will be 450 to 500 more teachers in the work force this fall than last. Dade County has made it a “priority” to reduce class size, and that requires more teachers, said a spokesman for the school system.
  • Seattle. The public schools could lose up to 300 teaching positions for this year as a result of declining enrollment. The situation has also forced 14 school closings and caused the loss of state and federal funds tied to pupil counts.
  • Milwaukee. This year for the first time, Milwaukee may have to face the difficulty oflaying off teachers. There will be about 250 fewer teaching positions because of declining enrollment and cuts in federal programs, but it is still uncertain whether the attrition rate among the city’s 5,000 teachers will prevent layoffs.
    ''Up to this point we’ve been able to handle (reduction in force) through attrition,” said Thomas D. Graham, assistant superintendent. ''But resignations and retirements don’t seem to be coming in at quite the same rate as last year.”
  • Denver. No layoffs are slated for nearly 4,100 teachers despite declining enrollment; school officials believe attrition will shrink their teacher force enough. Temporary teachers are hired for one year with the understanding that they will not be rehired.
  • San Francisco. Superintendent Robert Alioto reported the teaching force of 3,500 is being reduced this year through attrition. “Next year will probably be our worst,” he said. Enrollment also is declining.

Thomas A. Shannon, executive director of the National School Boards Association, said school districts have characteristically attempted to reduce staffing first through attrition and then by “riffing.”

In 1979, there were approximately 2,2 million classroom teachers nationwide. In 1980, according to a preliminary survey by the National Center for Education Statistics (N.C.E.S.), the number of teaching jobs declined to about 2.16 million. The N.C.E.S. reports that the number has remained fairly stable since 1974, when there were 2.15 million teachers.

That has been the case despite the decline in public school enrollment- from 45.9 million students in 1970 to 41.6 million in 1979, a drop of 9.4 percent.

“Down the road there are going to be layoffs due to federal cuts,” Mr. Shannon said. However, he added, current layoffs “are primarily the result of spending or taxing limitations imposed by law, principally in Massachusetts and California.”

Ray Hansen, chief legal counsel for the California Education Association, said 1,800 teachers in the state have received final layoff notices, and the total is expected to increase to 2,300 teachers “over and above attrition.” He said in a minority of cases the layoffs were caused by declining enrollment, but the rest involved budget constraints.

In California, where Proposition 13 put a lid on spending, the education budget is already tight and there is little available to absorb any additional federal cuts. “About three years ago, Prop 13 eliminated a tremendous amount of money so that it made us lean going into the Reagan cuts,” Mr. Hansen said.

Recruiting Science Teachers

In states without layoffs, attention has been devoted to recruiting primarily math and science teachers, but there is also a demand in vocational agriculture, bilingual education, data-processing, industrial arts, and special education.

The New York City school system, for example, enrolled more than 500 teaching candidates who lacked the required education credits in its Intensive Teacher Training Program. Despite that move, the system still needs 175 additional math and science teachers for its junior and senior highs.

To encourage enrollments in the training program, officials offered participants with bachelor’s degrees in the shortage subjects eight tuition-free credits toward certification.

Robert Terte, a spokesman for the city’s public schools, said that participants are required to obtain the remaining credits for full certification on their own and that those who fail to do so within a specified time must repay the program.

He said New York’s school system would have been in “worse shape” without the program even though the city uses advertising and employs college recruiters to maintain its active teacher-recruitment program.

Houston school officials are issuing temporary emergency permits to less-than-qualified teachers bearing “deficiency plans” from the Texas Education Agency outlining the courses they need to be certified, according to Felix Cook, deputy superintendent for personnel. However, the teachers must take at least six credits on their own each year until the deficiencies are corrected before they can earn full certification.

Mr. Cook said the Houston Independent School District has been recruiting and estimated that 85 percent of its 900 new teachers will be from out of state.

“We were there when Proposition 2 ½ came in, and we were there in Ohio and Michigan,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the September 07, 1981 edition of Education Week