Fewer teacher layoffs than feared in Snohomish County

  • By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
  • Monday, May 16, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

Not as many public school teachers are going to lose their jobs in Snohomish County this summer as was thought. Enough teachers are retiring or leaving for other reasons that school boards can eliminate those positions and avoid large-scale layoffs.

Teachers who survive layoffs, however, can

expect more students in their classrooms in the fall. And thinner ranks mean some teachers will be uprooted from one campus and assigned to another.

“It is never without pain,” said DJ Jakala, community relations manager for the Edmonds School District.

“We’re also not done yet,” she said. “Until we have the final figures from the state, we’ll be adjusting and massaging what we can do to provide the most optimal situation for our students and staff when they return in September.”

State legislators are in special session trying to agree on how much to pare from schools, health care programs and human services to close a projected $5.1 billion gap in the two-year budget that begins July 1.

Superintendents have been watching closely. They’ve been trying to calculate how many fewer state dollars they can count on for day-to-day operations and whether that means layoffs are needed to balance school budgets.

State law requires school boards notify teachers, counselors and other certificated staff if there may be layoffs because of budget reductions. The law sets a May 15 deadline for districts to adopt a “Reduced Educational Program” spelling out how many positions and which ones are to be eliminated.

Then the boards decide how many reduction-in-force notices to send out. With no action by lawmakers before Sunday, the deadline automatically has been extended to June 15. But school boards last week weren’t waiting to see if the Legislature might act and proceeded with their staffing decisions.

Countywide, a couple of hundred full-time positions in elementary and secondary schools are being eliminated. In some districts, attrition and retirements are anticipated to cover many of those spots.

Everett and Arlington public schools decided not to send any layoff notices. Edmonds School District, the county’s largest, expects 60 vacancies from retirements and departures — and it expects to only eliminate about half that many positions. The district still expects to send layoff notices to two high school teachers who are in career

and technical education, who aren’t certified to teach in subjects where there are openings.

Lake Stevens School District is sending a layoff notice to one person — a high school horticulture teacher whose class had been attracting fewer students over time.

It’s a gamble for those districts. State lawmakers could wind up giving schools less money than has been publicly discussed, and it would be too late for those districts to send out layoff notices.

“It’s a judgment decision,” Everett school Superintendent Gary Cohn said. “When we boiled it all down, my belief is the risks are worth it. I’m very hopeful they will reach a compromise that won’t force districts to reduce funding to schools further.”

Some districts are taking another approach and telling more people they may lose their jobs than will actually be laid off.

Monroe school leaders are sending pink slips to 18 people, while eight first-year teachers in Darrington — nearly a quarter of the entire staff — received notices.

“The layoff of eight teachers exceeds a worst-case scenario for us,” school board President Julie Kuntz said. “After we know more about our state funding, we hope to bring back as many of them as possible.”

Marysville, Snohomish and Stanwood Camano school districts are each sending layoff notices to more than a dozen certificated members of their staffs.

The Marysville School Board voted to cut 41 full-time-equivalent positions, according to Terry Brandon, executive director of human resources.

“It is a number that is in excess of what we anticipate,” he said. “We tried to keep it as tight as we could, but we also have to protect ourselves, because we don’t know what the Legislature is going to do.”

Writers Amy Daybert and Gale Fiege contributed to this report.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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