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TUSD board approves layoffs for 605 workers, mostly teachers

Some may get jobs back

Sam Hughes Elementary School student Nico Miller, 6, holds a sign during a rally on Tuesday in front of TUSD headquarters.

Sam Hughes Elementary School student Nico Miller, 6, holds a sign during a rally on Tuesday in front of TUSD headquarters.

In a vote that brought some members close to tears, the Tucson Unified School District governing board Tuesday night unanimously approved layoff notices for next year for 560 employees – mostly teachers – and 45 administrators.

Last year, only 40 teachers received such notices, and all were called back to work.

Outside the meeting room an hour earlier, some teachers who got those notices, and students and parents who showed up to support them – about 80 in all – chanted “Don’t pink slip our future,” “Call Gov. Brewer today” and “Save our teachers.”

It was an emotional day for all involved, capped by the news that an assistant principal at White Elementary, Edna Hollins, died suddenly Sunday and a teacher at another elementary school had been involved in a serious traffic accident. Both had received layoff notices.

Inside the board room, a choked up Miguel Cuevas, elected in November, said his father and brother were laid off earlier this year. “I can empathize. This can potentially hurt or destroy our families in this community.”

Board member Bruce Burke said it was the hardest decision he has made in the six years he has been on the board.

“It’s a vote for us; it’s a career in jeopardy for those who got the notices,” he said.

Facing between $20 million and $45 million in state funding cuts, the district gave out Reduction in Force, or RIF, notices to teachers who had not been employed in TUSD for three consecutive years. There were some exceptions, including teachers in exceptional education, math and sciences, all hard-to-fill positions.

“These are newly hired, younger teachers who are just getting started in the profession,” Burke lamented.

Board member Adelita Grijalva’s “yes” vote was hardly audible and showed the strain she was under. “I know how this is going to affect families,” she said. “We keep hearing things like, ‘My wife already got laid off. Now what are we going to do for insurance?’ ”

Grijalva said, “We’re telling teachers, ‘Thank you very much for doing that very tough job, but it’s not appreciated in the state.’

“I would have loved to have voted ‘no;’ for all of us to have voted ‘no,’ but what could we do?” she asked.

State law requires districts to inform certified employees by April 15 if they may not be rehired for the next school year. District officials say there is no way to deal with $45 million in cuts without affecting teachers.

TUSD spokeswoman Chyrl Hill Lander has said district officials hope many of the teachers will be able to be rehired once TUSD knows exactly how much state funding it will receive for fiscal 2009-2010.

“But what are teachers supposed to do in the meantime?” was a question at a rally following a news conference called by Tucson Unified Schools Supporters and Voices for Education. Those groups asked supporters to write and call the governor and state legislators.

Robin Hiller, executive director of Voices for Education, a nonprofit championing a good education for all children, handed out 1,200 pink postcards that people could write messages on and send to legislators. Postcards also can be downloaded from the Web site www.voicesforeducation.org.

“We need our teachers. We need them – and teacher John (McEvers),” wrote Leila Simpson, 7, a second-grader at Sam Hughes Elementary, who wanted to save her kindergarten and first-grade teacher.

Ed Thomas, the parent of two TUSD students, said laying off teachers would only worsen the states economy, put more people on welfare and drive good teachers out of the state.

TUSD teachers who got pink slips Friday and those supporting them raise their hands during a rally.

TUSD teachers who got pink slips Friday and those supporting them raise their hands during a rally.

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