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District warns 238 of layoffs

Tue., May 3, 2011

Spokane schools face up to $12 million in cuts

Spokane Public Schools administrators issued an unprecedented 238 layoff notices Tuesday in preparation for a “worst-case scenario” state budget.

On the list: 72 elementary school teachers, 42 high school and middle school teachers, 28 special-education teachers, 55 counselors, 10 speech language pathologists, six librarians, six psychologists, seven occupational therapists and physical therapists; and five specialty educators.The total number of layoff notices is the highest any current administrator could recall, said Staci Vesneske, assistant superintendent.

The district faces a budget shortfall between $9 million and $12 million. By union contract, the deadline for notifying certified employees of their employment status is May 15, so the district had to move forward with layoff notices even though the Washington Legislature is still working on a final budget.

“I’m frustrated and, of course, disappointed,” said Jenny Rose, Spokane Education Association president, in reaction to the notifications. “Let’s just go to the bare basics, and do what’s best for the kids. If that means putting administrators back in the classrooms, then that’s what we should do.”

The district’s administration came up with two layoff lists, one based on temporarily increasing class sizes by up to three students, which the school board approved last week, and a second, larger list based on keeping current class sizes, Vesneske said.

A reduction of 150 positions would likely close the $12 million budget gap, school officials said. However, the district prefers to issue more notices than needed to give the board flexibility when it comes to deciding which positions to cut.

Bob Douthitt, a school board member, said the board wanted administrators to prepare two lists so that they would not “succumb to the temptation to not look very hard past non-class-increase cuts.”

Unlike previous years when federal money could be expected to fill some financial holes or there was an opportunity for additional money from the state, the district is facing a certain shortfall.

“It’s really impossible to know yet how many people I will be able to bring back,” Vesneske said. Some of that depends on what the board decides. “For example, if the board decided to eliminate half the counselors, many of them don’t have teaching certificates, so despite seniority there would be no position for them.”

Only 17 out of 72 counselors districtwide also have teaching certificates.

“When we issued the notifications, we also took into consideration the retirement notices we’ve already received,” Vesneske said.

In addition to certificated staff, other district employees will be cut.

“We don’t have any figures yet on how the central office will be impacted, but there will be reductions,” Vesneske said. “It will likely be full-time jobs and reduction in salary.”

Said Rose, “Who knows what the board will ultimately decide while, meanwhile people are in limbo? Why not cut curriculum? Cut some administration from the central office? Why don’t we stop adding anything until we can get what we have under control?”

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