Accelify Blog

Schools’ Leaders Fear Job Cuts May Stick (DE)

May 18, 2010

More than 390 Delaware educators have been notified that they might not return to their classrooms in the fall.

Saturday was the contractual deadline for districts to notify teachers if they will be needed for the following school year. Typically, many of those who receive layoff notices are rehired in the summer. But several district and union leaders contacted by The News Journal said layoff notices increased this year — and there is growing concern that more educators won’t be hired back.

In Christina, the state’s largest school district, 184 teachers and teacher aides received layoff notices. Only 13 did last year, and five were rehired. Indian River officials delivered layoff notices to 68 educators this year. Last year, they brought back all of the 60 educators who initially received notices.

Other non-administrative employees, typically called paraprofessionals, didn’t have to be notified by Saturday. Still, many school districts let these employees know about layoffs now.

Looming budget shortfalls are to blame for the layoffs, district leaders say. Federal stimulus money has decreased by $21 million, and the state has proposed significant cuts in student transportation funding. As they sort through enrollment and funding numbers this summer, district leaders will have a clearer picture of who can return.

At New Castle County’s combined school board meeting Monday, Gov. Jack Markell said districts could save money by reducing administrative staff and renegotiating vendor contracts. Markell said districts can do more to cut costs without slashing classroom jobs.

"We are not going to succeed by cutting our way to prosperity, and we aren’t going to succeed by taxing our way to prosperity," he said.

Laying off teachers is the last measure in a months-long process of balancing payroll and st affing with local, state and federal appropriations, district leaders said.

"It has nothing to do with us wasting money," said Edna Cale, Appoquinimink School Board president.

The state’s budget time line is partly to blame, said Dan Curry, Lake Forest School District superintendent. Schools must estimate how many educators they can afford by May 15, but the state doesn’t finish its budget until June 30. Without firm numbers on state funding, district leaders are left to guess how many people they can afford in the coming year.

"If we’re going to do this right, we need time after the Legislature acts to do a proper budget," Curry said.

The number of employees that could be lost varies by district.

Brandywine gave notice to 23 teachers and 43 paraprofessionals. Cape Henlopen notified 12 teachers and is considering laying off up to six support staff. Red Clay notified 38.

But several districts — including Colonial, Delmar, Polytech and Smyrna — said they won’t lay off any educators. A handful of others laid off one or two.

No state agency tracks how many educators are laid off each year and districts report reductions differently, so knowing how many jobs could be lost is difficult. Statewide, superintendents told the state Office of Management and Budget that they expect to cut about 225 education-related jobs but plan to have 1,000 new hires to replace workers who retire or resign and to fill new positions.

Karen Kennedy, president of Brandywine’s paraprofessional union, said she’s disappointed that the district opted to lay off 43 teacher aides. The aides are an "essential support e lement in the educational development of our children." The union is planning an emergency meeting to discuss the cuts, she said.

Brandywine leaders have made cuts districtwide and worked with schools to prioritize what’s most important, said David Blowman, the district’s business manager. Over the last several years, the district has closed two schools (saving $500,000 in utility costs this year) and left several administrative positions unfilled. When this year’s budget was tight, the district kept some positions — such as reading and math specialists — but had to make cuts elsewhere, he said.

"I don’t think anyone could argue that Brandywine has not made tough decisions to contain costs," Blowman said.

The state has been pushing districts to trim administrative staff.

In a series of reports issued in the past few weeks, the lieutenant governor’s office has analyzed and ranked administrative spending. Administrative spending will be published annually to "encourage districts to spend on kids," Lt. Gov. Matt Denn said.

On Monday, Denn issued a report that ranked how much some charter and technical schools spend on administrative costs. The highest among charter schools were Positive Outcomes Charter School in Camden (19.61 percent). The highest administrative costs among vo-techs were at the New Castle County district (13.13 percent).

Christina School Board member George Evans, who lost a re-election bid last week, said he is not convinced slashing administrative jobs is a good move. Those leaders are needed to shepherd schools through the labyrinth of regulations created by the federal No Child Left Behind Act and Race to the Top program, he said.
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"Somebody’s got to do that work," he said.