As many as 220 educators in the Bethel School District could lose their jobs at the end of this academic year after receiving layoff notices Monday.
Bethel’s is just the first wave of teacher cuts expected in the next three weeks as school districts reckon with a state budget adopted by the Legislature over the weekend. It slashes $4 billion from education, health care and social services.
By law, districts have until May 15 to notify teachers and other staff about possible job losses.
Pierce County’s third-largest district, which covers Spanaway and neighboring communities, faces a $10 million to $12 million shortfall in its $160 million annual budget, Bethel spokeswoman Krista Carlson said.
Not all 220 employees – which include teachers and educational support staff such as librarians – will be laid off. The district has vacancies to fill, and the decision of who keeps jobs will be determined by seniority and eligibility. It’s not certain what the net loss will be, Carlson said.
“It’s just kind of hard to say right now,” she said. “We’re still in the rough stages of everything.”
The president of the teachers’ union, Tom Cruver, called the decision unnecessary and said the district has enough money in reserves to avoid such a large-scale job cut.
Those who received letters constitute about 20 percent of Bethel’s teaching work force.
Pierce County’s other large school districts said Monday they were still far from issuing layoff notices, if they issue them at all.
Tacoma officials don’t expect to send pink slips to teachers, although some individuals may shift to different positions next year based on need, said spokeswoman Leanna Albrecht.
She said some classified staff jobs may be eliminated or realigned.
Puyallup sent preliminary warnings to 128 teachers and staff this month that they wouldn’t retain their current positions, said district spokeswoman Karen Hansen. Of those, 47 agreed to fill other vacancies in the district.
That leaves 81 people in the hot seat, waiting to see if they receive official layoff notices by May 15.
Hansen said federal stimulus money still in limbo only adds to Puyallup’s uncertainty. And the district doesn’t have a handle on funding just finalized by state lawmakers.
“It’s a very complex formula,” she said. “We’re going to be taking the next several days, possibly weeks, shaking out what this means for us.”
Clover Park School District spokeswoman Kim Prentice said leaders are still determining how many employees will lose jobs. The Lakewood-area district wants to notify affected teachers and staff before the School Board’s May 11 meeting, she said.
In many districts, the springtime layoff notices may not be final. It’s possible a district could rehire some people if turnover increases, enrollment rises next fall or individual schools adjust their operating costs.
Bethel’s layoff notices were sent Monday, hours before the district and union were set to begin a round of negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement – the first since they settled a three-day strike in 2007. The average Bethel teacher won a cumulative pay raise of more than 10 percent over the next two years.
“The board’s decision to cut more than 200 teaching positions means Bethel students will have overcrowded classrooms and fewer teachers next year,” Cruver said in a statement. “Teachers in the classroom should be the school board’s top budget priority. The school board should cut less-important budget items before eliminating teachers.”
Cruver, who couldn’t be reached Monday afternoon, argues the district’s 10 percent budget reserve should be tapped to save jobs.
Carlson said the district has an obligation to keep some money in savings for unexpected costs; other portions of its cash are set aside for specific purposes and can’t be redirected for personnel.
“When you really break down the categories, there’s not much left,” she said. “It’s very sad, but there’s not much we can do right now.”
Staff writer Brent Champaco contributed to this report.
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