June 9, 2011 in City

100 Spokane teachers receiving recall notices

By The Spokesman-Review

Spokane Public Schools recalled 100 teachers Monday after the school board decided to not increase class size in the elementary grades.

Of the 238 employees who received pink slips in early May, 85 remain on the recall list, said Staci Vesneske, assistant superintendent. Fifty-three counselors were called back last month.

School officials continue to consider how to make up a $6.3 million budget deficit for 2011-’12. But maintaining elementary class sizes leaves fewer employees wondering if they need to look for a new job.

“It’s a stressful time when you don’t know what the next year will look like,” said Brooks Cooper, 27, a Rogers High School history teacher who was recalled Wednesday. “It’s a relief to know that the majority of us are returning.”

Retirements and resignations since the layoff notices went out last month allowed more staff to be called back, Vesneske said.

Class size has been the primary focus as school officials struggled with cuts. The board agreed to temporarily suspend class size limits and allow up to three more students – a $5.5 million savings. But community members and teachers begged officials to cut whatever else they could before touching class size.

A district survey showed that more than half of the 906 people who responded wanted to maintain the current class size. However, if necessary, increasing students in high school classes received the most support.

Increasing class size in middle and high schools remain on the table, school officials said.

“Anytime you increase class size, it can impact the classroom,” Cooper said. “I hope they don’t have to go that route.”

Throughout the budgeting process school officials projected a budget gap of $9 million to $12 million. The final deficit was $13.15 million, district officials said. Using $5.4 million from savings, the district decreased the gap to $6.3 million.

Many cuts remain under consideration, including cutting administrative pay by 3 percent and freezing increases based on longevity, reducing administrators in the Teaching and Learning division, reducing instructional assistant staffing in special education resource rooms, eliminating elementary school extracurricular activities, eliminating instructional coaches and adjusting elementary school library staffing, resulting in fewer librarians.

At the same time, school officials are still considering investments amounting to about $1.8 million. Those include academic intervention and credit retrieval programs and a K-8 online learning program.

Jenny Rose, Spokane Education Association president, said: “I was disappointed that they OK’d spending money on investments. That $1.8 million is not people. How can they do that when there are still people who have not been brought back?”

But Rose was pleased with the decision on elementary class size. “Now staffing at the contract or below-contract sizes gives kids the opportunity to succeed,” she said.

Courtney Kerr-Smith, a first-year teacher who works with behaviorally challenged students, remains on the recall list. She hopes to be called back, but she’s not counting on it.

“I think you have to invest in the school district to better the district’s future, but it’s not people,” she said, agreeing with Rose. “To raise the class size even more, I’m fearful to see how that would turn out.”

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