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Folsom teachers handed pink slips

By: Bridget Jones, Special to the Telegraph
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Many local school districts are operating in an environment of uncertainty. With staff layoffs a big possibility but not a sure thing, educators are waiting to see what next school year has in store. March 15 was the official deadline for school districts in California to issue pink slips to certificated staff members including teachers, counselors and administrators. In Folsom, 50 received pink slips. Local districts’ budgets will be impacted by several factors including the upcoming special election on May 19 and the federal stimulus package. The amount of money allotted to education in California through these sources will determine what programs and positions districts, and the schools within them, will have to cut for the 2009-2010 school year. “This is still preliminary,” said Stephen Nichols, public information officer for the Folsom Cordova Unified School District. “We’re anticipating some flexibility from the stimulus package. Our superintendent and our governing board were absolutely adamant that (staff layoffs) is our worst case scenario. If the situation gets better, hopefully we won’t even have to honor pink slips.” This month Folsom Cordova Unified School District issued a total of 50 full-time equivalent pink slips throughout its 30 schools and within district administration. Full-time equivalent means staff in both full-time and a combination of several part-time positions received notices, so more than 50 jobs are actually at stake, Nichols said. The district has tried its hardest to keep the community informed of the situation every step of the way, and local residents have voiced their concerns, Nichols said. “We received several thousand phone calls and emails from parents, students and teachers over the course of this process,” he said. “Everybody has their favorite programs they don’t want to see hurt. I haven’t received one phone call or one email about, ‘Why are you laying off this person?’ We’ve been consistently educating the public … so they’ve seen this one coming.” Kathryn Allaman, principal of Folsom High School, said her teachers expected this situation. “Our teachers are very intelligent,” Allaman said. “They keep up with the news. Our teachers knew education was getting hit hard, so they anticipated the budget cuts.” Allaman said staff layoffs are based on seniority, so the newest teachers are the first to be laid off, and if a position opens at another school, new teachers might not have a chance if an educator with higher seniority also applies for the position. “I’ve been in the field of education for 30 years and it’s so disheartening,” she said. “Some of these passionate professionals just new to this profession being laid off – it is certainly one of the most unpleasant parts of this job. These are people’s lives.” Carol Bly, superintendent of Rescue Union School District, said a total of 25 teaching positions may be cut throughout schools in her district. “It’s based on seniority,” Bly said. “In our situation it’s elementary teachers, teachers of K-6th grade, and given that it’s based on seniority, I believe every school in the district was affected in some way.” Bly said the struggling economy and pre-existing lack of funding bring a deep sense of aggravation to the situation. “I think we’re all frustrated,” she said. “I think we all see this as a great tragedy. It feels inhumane. We’re already at a low level of funding, and that’s been happening for some time. I have been in education for well more than 30 years and I have never seen an economy like this.” The district’s candidness with the community and the local teachers union has led to a great feeling of support in return, Bly said. “We’ve been talking to the community,” she said. “We’ve had community forums for some time. I feel like we’re putting the best heads together to do the best we can with very difficult circumstances. We’ll manage through. I worry for my colleagues who don’t have the kind of environment we have here.” Bly said every kind of staff is being impacted by this tense situation including classified, or non-academic, staff members. So, everyone is doing his or her part to make things a little easier. “We’re just coming together as colleagues any way we can,” she said. “I think everybody’s desperate for the situation to be different than it is. We have a number of classified positions we haven’t filled to save money … people are voluntarily taking a cut in pay, it just goes on and on.” Not every local school district is facing possible staff layoffs and program cuts. El Dorado Union High School District has not issued pink slips to any of its staff. Stephen Luhrs, associate superintendent of business, said the district hasn’t had to make the cuts other districts have, because it is still doing well financially. “We are doing much better than most,” Luhrs said. “We have substantial reserves as a district. We don’t need to react as quickly as a lot of other districts because in essence we have money in the bank.” Stephen Wehr, principal of Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado Hills, said his school does not have plans to cut any of its programs for next year. “We have not had to (cut any programs), and that is something we hope will prevail in the end,” Wehr said. “We are well known for our visual and performing arts, our academics programs … We are planning to move forward with all of those.” Nichols said communication through every step of the tense process has helped staff, parents and students feel a bit more secure in these uncertain times. “People are taking it as best as they possibly can,” he said. Bridget Jones can be reached at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com.