Teachers Facing Layoff Prospects

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Despite signs that the nation’s economy is on the road to recovery, teachers across the country are still finding pink slips along with their paychecks.

Because districts’ budgets have already been trimmed elsewhere in the past few years, many school boards now face the difficult decision of whether to lay off teachers in order to balance their books.

"If a school district has to sustain a major [budget] reduction, they have little alternative than to reduce staff," said Reginald Felton, the director of federal relations for the Alexandria, Va.-based National School Boards Association.

The potential layoffs appear to be widespread.

Officials in the 72,000-student Cleveland school district plan to cut 873 positions—including more than 600 teachers—for the coming school year. In Providence, R.I., the school board announced plans to let go nearly 250 school counselors, social workers, and teachers.

The District of Columbia school board said last week that it intends to sack more than 500 school workers—almost 300 of them teachers. About half the teaching positions would come out of elementary schools.

In California, 5,000 teachers have received pink slips, indicating that they could lose their jobs for the coming school year. Last year at this time, 30,000 teachers were in danger of being laid off, according to Barbara E. Kerr, the president of the California Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.

Though the climate has improved for teachers in California, "it’s still a desperate situation," Ms. Kerr said.

In many cases, districts around the country hand out pink slips, but then rescind some of the layoff notices because attrition or other revenue sources solve their financial problems.

Actions Spark Protests

Teachers, education advocates, and community members have not taken the news lying down.

About 2,000 teachers and other school supporters rallied at Indiana’s Statehouse in Indianapolis last month, demanding that lawmakers increase education spending so that school boards would not be forced to cut teaching positions.

Meanwhile, protesters in Detroit, where an anticipated 3,200 school jobs are on the line, have called for the resignation of the district’s chief executive officer, Kenneth S. Burnley.

Although Detroit has been hit with the double-whammy of declining state revenue and enrollment, the school funding situation all over Michigan has been particularly difficult this year, according to Kathleen Booher, the executive director of the Tri- County Alliance for Public Education. The nonprofit organization represents superintendents in 83 districts in southeast Michigan.

"We have not received increases at the local level for the past two years," Ms. Booher said. Meanwhile, districts there are grappling with an increase in expenditures.

Consequently, districts are forced to lay off workers, Ms. Booher said. Twenty-six out of the 28 superintendents she recently spoke to, she said, told her they were going to have to recommend that their school boards issue pink slips.

"Last year, districts had to lay off support staff," she said. "This coming year, almost none of them can avoid laying off teachers."

Eliminating teaching positions is generally a school board’s last resort, according to Dan Kaufman, a spokesman for the NEA. "Districts are trying to protect teachers," he said. "But many of the easiest cuts have already been made."

Misplaced Anger?

When teaching positions are cut, class sizes go up and student achievement goes down, Mr. Kaufman said. In California, some physical education classes have up to 70 students, according to data the NEA has collected.

In Michigan, educators who teach small numbers of students, such as reading specialists, have seen their positions eliminated, Ms. Booher said. And at the high school level, Advanced Placement courses, which generally have fewer students than general education classes, have been scrapped in some districts to save money, she added.

The result, Ms. Booher said, is that local residents have become increasingly angry at their school boards. "We are trying to help citizens recognize that their concerns must be expressed to their state representatives," she said, "because that is where the funding decisions are made."

Alabama teachers don’t have to worry about their livelihood anytime soon. They are protected from being laid off, thanks to a provision legislators wrote into their budget bill for fiscal 2005.

"We’ve protected jobs but suffered losses on other fronts," said Caroline Noback, the president of A+ Education Foundation, a school advocacy group in Montgomery, Ala. School districts have had to reduce funding for textbooks, maintenance, library materials, and professional development, she said.

At the same time, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee have increased K-12 education funding, according to Mr. Kaufman of the NEA.

"Nationally, the economic situation has been stabilized," he said. "But schools have been reeling from these cuts."

Vol. 23, Issue 37, Page 14

Published in Print: May 19, 2004, as Teachers Facing Layoff Prospects
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