Wake teachers face transfers or layoffs

Staff WriterApril 10, 2009 

— Hundreds of Wake County school employees will either be transferring to other schools or be told they won't have a job as part of the school district's austerity budget for the next school year.

Wake principals are now determining how many people they'll employ this fall under the school district's requirement that they fill only 95 percent of their staff and teaching slots. The loss of that 5 percent means many principals expect to have fewer employees, forcing people to look for work elsewhere in the school district.

Although employees routinely transfer between schools each year, anxiety levels among teachers and staff are higher now that people know that some won't be rehired because of budget cuts.

"Now that people are hearing that their jobs won't be there next year and that they might have to drive halfway around the county for a new job, people are getting nervous," said Jennifer Lanane, president of the Wake County chapter of the N.C. Association of Educators, which represents 5,000 Wake school employees.

So far, Wake has told the 1,496 employees whose contracts expire June 30 that they won't automatically be rehired. This group includes teachers who work part-time, came back from retirement, were hired after the school year started or were hired before their teaching licenses were issued.

But rumors about sharp increases in class sizes and massive staff losses are flying about.

"At times like this, rumors will run rampant," said David Neter, Wake schools' chief business officer. "But I think the school system has been very forthcoming."

School districts get a majority of their funding from the state on the basis of student enrollment. But the state is looking at a budget shortfall of $3 billion. State Senate leaders are proposing enlarging each class by two students to save money.

Because plans include only 95 percent of funding, Wake schools will get fewer staff positions unless they are expecting at least 5 percent more students this fall.

In addition to losing teachers, students may see larger classes and fewer courses offered.

"Students might not be able to get their first choice of electives now," said Stephen Mares, principal of Broughton High School in Raleigh.

Mark Savage, principal of Wakefield High School in Raleigh, indicated he might have to cut electives to ensure students can get required courses.

"We have an obligation to the kids who are caught in this austere budget to make sure they can get the offerings they need," Savage said. "That's when reality comes in and you have to make hard calls."

Broughton loses 8 to 10

At Broughton High, Mares is preparing for the loss of eight to 10 teaching positions.

Green Elementary in Raleigh will lose four teachers and shut down one of its four year-round tracks. Principal Shelly Watson said nearly every year-round school will be cutting the number of classes it will operate.

"The problem is the money just isn't there," Watson told upset parents Tuesday. "That's a situation a lot of schools are facing."

Under board policy, an employee whose contract is not expiring and whose job is being eliminated has to be offered a new job at another school. They'd likely get jobs now held by employees whose contracts expire June 30.

Lanane, head of the educators' association, said teachers might have to settle for teaching at different grade levels and schools than they'd like.

"I'm telling people to take the jobs that they've been offered and not hope that something else will happen," she said.

Jobs would be offered to employees whose contracts expire only after all the other employees are taken care of.

Schools could fill the positions they're holding open if the state cuts funding by less than 5 percent. School officials say it's better to hold the positions open for now than to risk filling the jobs and laying those people off.

It's uncertain how much state money Wake will get.

On Thursday, the state Senate passed a budget that includes a 1.5 percent cut in education money once federal stimulus money is included. Wake school officials say it's uncertain how much stimulus money can be used.

Robert Smith, the principal of Durant Road Middle School in Raleigh, feels more fortunate than his colleagues. He'll be hiring teachers because his enrollment is projected to go up sharply.

"If I had the same enrollment as last year, I'd have a lot more gray hairs now," Smith said. "It's not just a case of numbers. These are people with families."

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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