In most years when school districts hand out pink slips to dozens of teachers, informing them that their services will not be required the coming fall, it’s not much more than a fire drill. A short time later, they are told that their jobs are safe, because the state budget has sorted itself out or cuts have been made elsewhere in the district’s budget. This could be the year, though, when it’s no false alarm.
The Santa Barbara School Districts’ board on Tuesday night, March 10, agreed to distribute the layoff notices to more than 40 elementary school teachers. It also agreed to eliminate almost 25 secondary school teaching positions, though that number includes mere reductions in some teachers’ hours, amounting to the equivalent of 25 full-time jobs. Additionally, all 122 temporary teachers are getting notices releasing them from duty at the end of this school year, bringing the total of teacher layoffs to roughly 190. Temporary teachers get pink slips every spring because they work on year-to-year contracts. This year, however, those teachers must entertain more doubt about whether they will be hired back for fall, and less hope of advancing to probationary and then permanent status.
The board was tasked by its staff with cutting $3 million from the operating budgets of the two combined districts-elementary and secondary-in order to ensure that its large but fast-diminishing reserve balance is still at the legal minimum and also will stabilize by the end of the next two years. It is unlikely to do all that by cutting teachers-whose cost to the district is about $85,000 each-but the layoff notices preserve the district’s “flexibility,” said Eric Smith, district business director. The board starts cutting in earnest in mid-April when, he said, staff will provide them with expense reductions options.
As it stands now, the elementary district’s savings would likely come from increasing class sizes in kindergarten through third grades, which presently contain an average of 20 children. Also at risk are the 20-student English and math classes in ninth grade. Furthermore, the elementary district enrollment has decreased. This resulted in part from the district purging transfer students to enable it to finance itself solely with basic aid, which means its income will no longer be dependent on the number of students who attend each day.
Lane Wheeler, president of the Santa Barbara Teachers Association, said he hoped teachers would retain their jobs, though he was less optimistic about that notion this year. Among other things, the nation’s economic troubles reduced teacher attrition, which normally decreases the teaching staff naturally. Last year there were 42 retirees, he said-this year, only six. Likewise, fewer teachers will likely be taking leaves of absence, which means fewer jobs for the temporary teachers. Nor are teachers transferring to other districts, because there are virtually no jobs anywhere in the state.
Parent Ken Rotman spoke to the board about the undervaluation of the temporary teaching staff, which includes every job description from classroom teachers to counselors to coaches. Rotman, a volunteer coach for the Santa Barbara High School mock trial team, noted that there was no such club at SBHS until temporary teacher Mike Moyer was hired two years ago. Moyer’s team came within a mere three points this year of beating the champion Dos Pueblos High School team. It is one of the school’s precious few extracurricular offerings of an intellectual nature, said Rotman, and if Moyer left, his loss would impoverish the school, he said. (Rotman listened enviously to a DP student that very evening cite the accomplishments of, among others, his school’s engineering team, robotics team, and debate team-none of which SBHS has.)
There are still several unknowns in the schools’ budget, including the effect of the federal stimulus package and results of the May 19 special statewide election requiring a two-thirds majority to implement some of the items within the current state budget. Also, the districts have not yet determined exactly how income from the parcel taxes Santa Barbara voters recently approved will be used to support class size reductions and extracurricular programs including math, art, Spanish, and music.
In the meantime, Kristine Robertson, director of personnel, grim-facedly told the board that she and a colleague would be personally visiting campuses for the remainder of the week to deliver the pink slips and talk to teachers. Wheeler said union reps would also be “ministering to our members,” while the California Teachers Association has organized teachers to wear pink on Friday, March 13, to call attention to the potential layoffs.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Mike Moyer as Mike Boyer.