May 6, 2009 in City

Teachers ponder future with pink slips looming

More than 100 in Spokane district expecting layoff notices
By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photo

Gail Madsen, a Jefferson Elementary School sixth-grade teacher, gives a hug goodbye to student Rebecca Manly as the school day ends Tuesday. Madsen is among dozens of teachers in Spokane Public Schools told to expect layoff notices soon.
(Full-size photo)

Special session

It’s unclear whether Gov. Chris Gregoire and legislative leaders in Olympia will be able to agree on a special session. Gregoire, who has said schools need the millions of dollars at stake, wants to pass a levy bill. She’s also said she’s unhappy with a provision of the bill that would strip about $60 million in state levy equalization money for schools. Gregoire said she’d like to see the state come up with another way to save that money.

But the governor and top lawmakers have so far been unable to agree on terms for a special session. Gregoire has said she’d like to a see a simple one-day session with just a few budget-related bills. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown has suggested that a session might give lawmakers time to take up other key bills that died.

“I sent a message today to both the (House) speaker and the majority leader saying that time’s up,” Gregoire said Tuesday. If she and lawmakers haven’t reached agreement by Friday, she said, she may not call a special session at all.

Richard Roesler

Gail Madsen’s anxiety about whether she’ll have a teaching job next year is seeping into the classroom, she says, and that’s tough for the kids.

“The kids are very in tune with moods,” the sixth-grade teacher said. “They can sense stress.”

Madsen, who teaches at Spokane’s Jefferson Elementary School, and other teachers in the same situation are on edge a little more, less focused and maybe not as patient or chipper, she said.

“It’s this limbo thing,” Madsen, 40, said. “We can’t move in any direction.”

Madsen is among more than 100 Spokane Public Schools teachers told Monday to expect pink slips next Tuesday, with the caveat that those pieces of paper could turn out to be meaningless. Officials say most or all of the teachers will be asked to return for the 2009-’10 school year, but the district’s budget remains uncertain.

“Will I get recalled? Do I have to pack up my room at the end of the year? I’d rather know now if I was not going to have a job,” Madsen said. “I don’t know when we will know. I try not to think about it.”

Teachers are getting the pink slips because of a May 15 union contract deadline. But the state budget – and how federal stimulus money will be used – remain unknown, officials said.

“No matter what, everyone is suffering greatly,” said Maureen Ramos, Spokane Education Association president. “People with families who have worked so hard for their career are being told they might not have a job.”

Madsen, a first-year teacher, said she was “thrilled to get the job” last year. “If I get laid off, I don’t know what I will do. I know I would probably have to change my career.”

Madsen said she and her husband just finished building a house, and they have a daughter and two grandchildren here. She wouldn’t move for another job, she said.

Shannon Salyer, a special-education teacher at Shadle Park High School, will also receive the layoff notice.

“I’m single. I’m realistically looking at selling my home and relocating. Those are big stressors for me,” said Salyer. “So they tell you, ‘You are going to be laid off,’ then two days before school starts, they say, ‘Oh, you can have your job back,’ ” Salyer said. “Meanwhile, you have been trying to move forward, maybe just accepted another job. What do you do?”

Salyer wants to stay in Spokane but is considering going to Texas to find a teaching job.

Teaching positions locally are hard to come by because four nearby colleges and universities have education programs that produce quality graduates.

Also, many people from out of state seek jobs here because of the “high quality of the district,” said Spokane Public Schools spokeswoman Terren Roloff.

Ramos said 3,000 to 6,000 teachers are projected to lose their jobs in Washington, so the job market will be tight statewide. Only specialists such as speech pathologists or special-education teachers are in demand. Sacajawea Middle School teacher Carlos Sotolongo was hired three years ago. He’s expecting to receive a layoff notice, too, he said. The 55-year-old moved to Spokane after a 22-year career with Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

“I grew up poor. I live in a nice home now, but it can all change in a moment’s time. You don’t believe it will happen to you until it does,” Sotolongo said. “It’s like watching a movie that you’re in, but you just can’t believe it.”

Contact Jody Lawrence-Turner at or (509) 459-5593.

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