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What About All The Teachers Left Behind?

Note: Interesting headline here: "Teachers Fear Layoffs, Transfers." The story ran in the B section of the Boston Globe. If 71% of executives whose companies belong to the Business Roundtable had received layoff notices, would the story run in the B section?

Does anyone fear what will happen to the kids--with all these teacher layoffs? It seems like the headline should read that the city is in a panic at the prospect of what the phony budget crisis and associated political maneuvering is doing to its children.

City teachers fear layoffs, transfers

By Megan Tench

The dreaded letter was delivered to Luisa Shalhoub's classroom at the Gardner Elementary School in Boston last week. When she read it, her heart sank.

''It said I might not have a position here next September,'' Shalhoub recalled, her voice trembling.

After 28 years of teaching, Shalhoub fears that she might lose her job. Even if she keeps it, the prospect of having to interview for a new position at other Boston schools seems daunting.

''It's pretty demoralizing having to compete now,'' said Shalhoub, a fourth-grade bilingual education teacher who has been at the Gardner for 21 years. ''I mean, at this point in your life, to be interviewing, to be rejected, I was hoping to end my years of teaching in a dignified way. Now this.''

As proposed budget cuts squeeze school systems statewide, officials are struggling to calm fearful teachers, even as they grapple with how many of them to lay off.

Teachers must be notified by June, but some districts are waiting as long as they can to deliver the bad news.

''We are trying not to notify them until the last minute, because we don't want to scare them,'' said Anthony Caliri, human resource manager for the Somerville School Department. He estimated that 66 of Somerville's 560 teachers might have to be let go.

Last week, Boston public school officials sent ''excess letters'' to 2,800 of the district's 3,900 permanent teachers, alerting them that they might be reassigned to another school or laid off. The letters, sent because of an obligation under the teachers union contract, further raises tensions in a district that already has announced that six schools will close at the end of the school year.

Teachers said they fear being pitted against one another, as both veterans and newer teachers worry about being displaced by the other. Some fear that race will be a key factor, as the district tries to meet a court-ordered obligation to maintain diversity in its work force.

''These notices . . . and the threat of hundreds of layoff notices disrupt everyone in the system,'' said Steve Crawford, spokesman for the Boston Teachers Union, which is negotiating its contract with the district. The sheer number of excess notices has caught school employees off guard. While proposed budget cuts call for laying off only 1,400 staff positions, including 650 teachers, district officials said they must send out twice the number of excess notices to prepare for a final state budget that could further slash aid to school districts. Roughly 40 percent of the permanent staff in all schools received excess notices.

''Because of the state of uncertainty, we had to protect the interest of the school system and our fiscal obligations,'' said Ray Shurtleff, the district's director of human resources.

Boston is among a handful of school districts statewide that are required to deliver excess notices, according to the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state's largest teachers union. While most school districts will send out layoff notices in June, some already have starting sending pink slips.

Cambridge has notified about 80 faculty members, while Andover has told about 40 staff members they might be laid off.

''Ultimately, it's the students that will be penalized for the cuts,'' said Catherine Boudreau, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. ''Class sizes will increase, and the progress that we made over the years will be eroded.''

Michael Contompasis, Boston public schools' chief operating officer, stressed that ''an excess notice is not the same as a layoff notice.''

''Teachers who are excessed can apply for a new position,'' he said. ''They are still vulnerable to a layoff notice, but they have some protections.''

For example, teachers with seniority rights will be able to bump teachers with less time in the system, Contompasis said. Boston's layoff notices are scheduled to go out by June 1.

So far, every teacher at the six schools slated to be closed has received an excess notice. The schools are the Frank V. Thompson Middle School and the William E. Endicott Elementary School in Dorchester, the R.G. Shaw Middle School and the Phillis Wheatley Middle School in Roxbury, the Margaret Fuller Elementary School in Jamaica Plain, and the Harriet A. Baldwin Elementary School in Brighton.

In addition, all teachers from Dorchester High, which is scheduled to be redesigned into three small schools by September, were excessed, as were all bilingual education teachers, permanent nurses, and occupational and speech therapists.

In a letter to teachers on how the district will determine layoffs, Boston Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant highlighted the district's court-ordered obligation to maintain diversity. It requires the district to maintain a work force that is 25 percent black and 10 percent other minority.

''If we can limit the number of layoffs of permanent teachers, it shouldn't be a problem at all,'' Contompasis said. ''We will have to look toward the provisional pool to ensure the district maintains its commitment to diversity.'' This is troubling news to teachers like Chad Harris who, after two years of teaching at the Umana/Barnes Middle School in East Boston, is dusting off his resume again.

''This whole year, it's been hanging over our heads. It definitely hurts morale,'' said Harris. ''It's a rewarding job, but it's a stressful one, too. I want to teach in an urban school system. I want to change a child's life for the better, but they are making it tough.''

— Megan Tench
City teachers fear layoffs, transfers
Boston Globe
April 11, 2003


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