Tacoma schools to lay off 18 teachers

Declining high school enrollment is a factor, as is loss of federal waiver

Staff writerMay 14, 2014 

Eighteen Tacoma teachers are receiving notices that their jobs will be gone in September.

Eight are middle-school teachers and seven teach in high schools.

It is the second year in a row that Tacoma Public Schools has laid off teachers. Last year, the district eliminated four, all vocational instructors.

Teachers were notified in person on Friday and Monday, and letters containing reduction-in-force (RIF) notices were mailed Friday. Tacoma also anticipates laying off about 12 para-educators, or teachers’ aides, who will be notified by June 1.

The teachers to be laid off are in physical education, social studies, career and technical education, language arts and art. Three positions are part-time.

Four other Pierce County school districts checked Wednesday — Puyallup, Clover Park, Franklin Pierce and Sumner — had no plans to issue RIF notices. In a fifth school district, Bethel, officials plan to issue just one notice.

Three Tacoma elementary teachers received RIF notices, but these are specialist positions, said district spokesman Dan Voelpel. The district will actually be looking to hire more general classroom teachers at elementary schools.

Accounting for those elementary openings, the net loss from the RIFs will be 12.5 teaching positions, Voelpel said.

Officials said staffing is based on student enrollment and demand for course offerings. They predict a decline of 400 high school students in the fall.

They also cited the anticipated redirection of about $1.8 million in federal Title I funding for high-poverty schools — the result of Washington state not maintaining its waiver this year under the No Child Left Behind law. While Tacoma will still receive the money, it must be spent on tutoring and other academic programs.

The money was used this year on new preschools and on instructional coaches at every campus.

“These are investments in our students that we do not want to lose,” said Lynne Rosellini, assistant superintendent for human resources.

Now the district must find other funding to keep those initiatives. Cuts to teaching positions, as well as anticipated para-educator cuts, will make up about $1.5 million.

Tacoma Education Association President Adrienne Dale said blaming the RIFs on loss of the waiver is misguided. She said the money is “a drop in the bucket for a school district this size.”

“We don’t need to RIF teachers, or take away preschools,” she said.

But both the union and the district acknowledge another factor at work. Under federal and state law, teachers must meet standards that make them qualified to teach the grade levels and subject areas where they are assigned.

“That means we do not have the flexibility to place teachers with single or narrow endorsements in other content areas,” Rosellini said.

While teachers were once certified to teach kindergarten through high school, more recent certification requirements limit their options, Dale said.

“We have tons of openings in elementary schools, but not as many teachers who are highly qualified to teach in elementary schools,” she said.

Tacoma Public Schools employs 2,004 people who hold teaching or other professional certificates, such as nurses or school psychologists.

Elsewhere, two other of Pierce County’s largest school districts said they don’t think they’ll have to make layoffs tied to the federal waiver loss.

In Lakewood’s Clover Park School District, officials planned to eliminate 10 teacher coaching positions as a result of the waiver loss. But those teachers will be able to transfer to classroom positions, said district spokeswoman Kim Prentice.

And in Puyallup, “we are still working through the loss of Title I funding,” School District spokesman Brian Fox said. “We don’t plan to reduce staffing as a result.”

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635

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