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560 layoff notices not the last word in TUSD

One-seventh of TUSD teachers notified; some will be recalled

Emily Freed was one of the 17 teachers at Oyama Elementary School to get a reducation-in-force letter Friday. Oyama has 24 teachers. "I'm just hoping I get called back," said Freed.

Emily Freed was one of the 17 teachers at Oyama Elementary School to get a reducation-in-force letter Friday. Oyama has 24 teachers. "I'm just hoping I get called back," said Freed.

Oyama Elementary was hit particularly hard as Tucson Unified School District announced Friday that 560 employees, mostly teachers, would get layoff notices.

At Oyama, 17 of its 25 teachers received them.

The mood at the school seemed to encompass the seven stages of grief, said Principal Victoria Callison.

“There is denial. ‘Cuts can’t be that big,’ some say. Some people are angry and some, profoundly sad.”

The Oyama cuts leave only eight teachers for 26 classrooms next year, so it’s likely the school, 2700 S. La Cholla Blvd., won’t lose all those positions.

TUSD made the notifications in anticipation of a funding reduction from the state next fiscal year of $20 million to $45 million. Estimates put the state budget for 2009-10 in the red by $3 billion.

Most of those notified Friday are untenured teachers who have not been employed for the major portion of three consecutive years with TUSD, said Nancy Woll, interim chief human resources officer.

In addition to the teachers and some counselors and librarians, 65 administrators, including some principals and assistant principals, got the same notice.

TUSD has about 3,500 teachers.

According to state law, all certified employees who might not be rehired for the following year must be notified by school districts by April 15.

Nonteaching staff also could be cut, but they do not require the same written notice as teachers, a TUSD spokeswoman said.

Woll said there are a few exceptions to the three-year cutoff for untenured teachers, including those in alternative education, exceptional education and hard-to-fill highly-qualified teacher positions, such as math and science.

“We’re in such need of special education teachers we can’t let any of them go,” she explained.

Woll stressed that the district “has over-noticed. We anticipate being able to recall some teachers when we have more definitive information” on what funding will be.

But with the shuffle that will ensue as schools in the next couple of months receive their budgets and learn how many teachers they can have, Callison said she doesn’t expect she will get all of her teachers back.

Oyama, one of TUSD’s youngest schools at less than 6 years old, has one of the youngest staffs.

Callison said she had “an odd sense of peace knowing that wherever these teachers land, that community is going to be very lucky.”

But she still feels “like I’m losing family members.”

Oyama, which was labeled by the state a year and a half ago as an “underperforming” school, is now one of the top 10 Reading First schools in the state. And that’s because of the great community of teachers at the school, Callison said. Reading First is a program aimed at increasing reading proficiency.

“I’m confident I’m sending high-quality people wherever they go,” she said. “The district, I know, will be compassionate, but we won’t get all our teachers back.”

In addition to the 560 notifications, all counselors and librarians, regardless of how long they have been with TUSD, received a letter Friday telling them “we don’t know how many counselors and librarians schools will have next year,” Woll said.

“If some positions are not funded, we may find we have fewer positions than counselors, so then there could be a further reduction in force of tenured counselors and librarians,” she said.

The governing board will vote on the reduction in force at a special board meeting Tuesday. If approved, official layoff letters will be sent to the employees affected.

Woll said some principals and assistant principals were among those notified because schools have been given the freedom to decide where they want to spend the limited money they will have next school year.

Schools have until April 30 to submit plans based on three scenarios: no cuts, 10 percent cuts and 18 percent cuts.

Woll said she hoped schools submit plans to the central office before the end of the month.

If a specific school decides it wants to keep a principal or assistant principal full time as opposed to half time, that employee will be given a letter of assurance from the district, Woll said.

“We’re trying to be as humane as possible. It is awful to do this. It’s just upsetting to everyone,” she said.

Oyama first-grade teacher Emily Freed, who has been there 2 1/2 years, said she was hoping she would miss the cut, but she didn’t.

“I hope I’ll get rehired, but I don’t know,” said Freed, who has an 11-month-old daughter. She and her husband, a TUSD teacher who didn’t get a notice, have just purchased a home, she said.

“I might have to look into preschool teaching and a huge pay cut,” she said. “But at least it’s something. I can’t just sit around from May to the beginning of school. What do you do?”

Freed said students can’t be completely shielded from what is going on.

“The kids know. They’re smart. They know something is wrong,” she said.

Freed doesn’t expect she’ll be back at Oyama next year. “The supplies I ordered for next year came in, so whoever does get this classroom will have supplies. I don’t know if I’ll have supplies where I end up,” she said, adding she was keeping the empty supply boxes in case she has to move at the end of the year.

She said she wishes voters had passed, instead of narrowly defeated, a TUSD override election in November that was geared toward lowering class size. “That would have saved hundreds of jobs,” she lamented.

Woll said when official reduction in force letters go out on Wednesday, the human resources department also will include data on benefits, job fairs and other information that may help them.

Only two out of TUSD’s 121 schools were unaffected by Friday’s notices.

Duffy Elementary, 5145 E. Fifth St., has only tenured teachers and Mary Meredith K-12, 755 N. Magnolia Ave., has both longtime and special educational teachers.

Steve Courter, president of Tucson Education Association, which represents TUSD teachers, said he wanted “to emphasize to people that this is a case of over-noticing and I hope we see quite a few of those people called back – and quite soon – but that depends on the state Legislature and the governor passing a budget that funds our schools adequately.”

He said the mood among teachers who may be laid off varies. “Some are quietly resigned and others quite frantic. This is the kind of uncertainty that makes it hard to do the job the way you want to.”

But, Courter said, “I know these people are professional and will do the job they need to for the students.”

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