Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Tally of school districts’ pink slips passes 4,000

PHOENIX – The number of Arizona teachers and other school personnel being told they may not have a job next school year because of the state’s budget crisis and other money trouble now exceeds 4,000, according to a preliminary tally of districts’ notifications to workers.

That number is sure to grow, because the initial figures released by the Arizona Education Association on Tuesday were based on reports from only 42 of the 220 districts statewide. Additional district boards were expected to consider possible personnel cuts during Tuesday night meetings.

The union said it had counted 4,641 notifications of contract non-renewals, reductions-in-force or similar job losses.

Districts face a Wednesday deadline under state law to notify low-seniority teachers that they might not be provided new contracts.

The AEA’s initial tally included many of the state’s largest districts by enrollment, including those in Mesa and Tucson.

Schools face uncertainty regarding possible cuts in school funding due to the state’s budget crisis. Legislative budget-writers have suggested significant cuts in K-12 school funding to help close a $3 billion gap in a budget based on $11 billion of spending.

Along with the prospect of state budget cuts, there’s also the recession’s dampening of sales-tax revenue provided for education, and some districts are retrenching because of declining enrollment.

Districts still can rehire the teachers now getting notices, but the notices are warnings of possible job losses. And just sending the notices is disruptive because they can prompt workers to begin looking for other jobs. The possibility of teacher layoffs also worries parents and students.

The cuts affect students, particularly younger children, even though the layoff notices are for the next school year, said Arizona PTA President Vivian Vincent of Tempe. “Their teachers are leaving — that’s a sad thing.”

The AEA-provided figures lump together all affected school district employees, without specifying how many are teachers, administrators or support staff.

Christine Clarkson, a sixth-grade teacher at a Deer Valley Unified School District elementary school in Anthem, said she was shocked and upset by her RIF notice though she’d heard of the budget trouble. “I had always thought of teaching as a stable career.”

Clarkson said she’s holding off on looking for a new job until school ends in May but that she’s thinking about contacting legislators in the meantime.

Statewide, teachers are expected to account for most of the pink slips. For example, the vast majority of Tucson Unified’s layoff notices — 560 out off 610 — went to teachers, that district’s superintendent told The Associated Press.

There are about 124,000 school district employees statewide, half of whom are teachers, according to state Department of Education figures.

Affected Tucson Unified personnel won’t know if they will ultimately keep their jobs until after the state approves a new budget that nails down funding reductions, said Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen.

The next state budget year starts June 30. Last year, when the Legislature and then-Gov. Janet Napolitano faced less severe budget trouble, the budget wasn’t approved by lawmakers until June 26.

Tucson Unified is trying to protect teaching positions by imposing administrative cuts, Celania-Fagen said.

“We’re looking at reducing nearly some entire departments administratively to preserve teaching spots in our schools,” she said.

In northwestern Arizona, Kingman Unified School District Superintendent Roger Jacks said the district board voted to eliminate 57 teaching positions out of about 505, including 20 by reductions in force.

The 11-school district has already increased class sizes but may have to go higher, Jacks said. “We’re assuming a 5 percent (cut), but hoping it will be something better than that. We’re definitely hoping it’s not going to be worse than that.”

The layoff notices have proven to be controversial, with Republican lawmakers and the Arizona School Board Association trying unsuccessfully to postpone notification deadlines.

The legislation was backed by House and Senate majorities but it didn’t get the two-thirds votes of approval it needed to take effect immediately.

There is no indication of imminent approval of a new state budget, but Republicans argued that they were confident of avoiding deep cuts in K-12 school funding. They said postponing the deadlines to mid-June would give districts flexibility to issue notices and avoid causing needless alarm.

House Speaker Kirk Adams said Tuesday that many of the RIF notices will prove to be unnecessary because lawmakers intend to give flexibility to school districts to move money around within their budgets. “But we shouldn’t pretend that there is not going to be any layoffs because there certainly will be.”

The AEA and legislative Democrats argued that postponing the notification deadline would keep teachers in the dark at a time when they may need time to find new jobs in the current poor economy, and AEA President John Wright said Tuesday that districts are generally acting responsibly given the fiscal uncertainty.

“They don’t want to be caught with a lot of contracts with teachers they can’t afford,” Wright said. “There has not been another year like this.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said some districts were overreacting to the possibility of state funding cuts and that use of federal stimulus money could keep cuts to a minimum.

School groups on Friday expressed “shock and outrage” about Horne’s criticism of districts. Districts had to “err on the side of caution” because of the possibility of deep cuts in state funding, the groups said.


On the Web

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