Teacher layoff count expected tonight

April 21, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

At the April 22 school board meeting, Issaquah School district officials will announce the number of teachers they expect to cut from the payroll.“This is going to be a difficult time for everyone in the district,” said Ron Thiele, associate superintendent. “We haven’t had to lay off teachers in quite some time. Growth and a stable economy have prevented that, but this is a difficult impact, not only in our region but throughout the nation.”

For months, Superintendent Steve Rasmussen has been visiting schools and facility buildings, informing teachers and support employees that layoffs are imminent in the face of a $9 billion state budget shortfall.

The impact to the Issaquah School District could be about $6.5 million, said Jacob Kuper, chief of operations and finance for the district.

Kuper and his staff have been figuring out the reduction in force line, more commonly known as a RIF line. Those with seniority below the RIF line will receive notices by May 15.

Why teachers?

Funding from Initiative 728, intended to fund lower class sizes, is being partially or entirely eliminated in the state budget. District officials say they have nowhere else to cut.

For example, Issaquah was one of the first districts to impose athletics fees at the middle and high schools. Officials have also implemented energy savings strategies, and already consolidated bus routes and bell times to maximize travel and fuel costs. ISD already has the lowest administrative overhead in the district.

Other districts are just beginning these initiatives, Thiele said.

“We’re at the bone and there’s nothing left,” said Sara Niegowski, district communications director. “We are very cognizant that people will lose their jobs, but as a system, we have to ensure our classrooms next year have those things that they will need to continue the level of educational service we provide.”

The only place left to cut, after about $2 million in other support costs, is teachers, Kuper said.

Projects from the 2006 bond, like the remodel of Liberty High School and the building of Elementary 15, the new elementary school on the plateau, will not be affected because the funding for those projects come from the school district’s capital fund. Operating costs for the new elementary school for the first two years have already been reserved.

How a RIF line is made

The Issaquah teachers’ contract stipulates layoffs are based on seniority. But there is a third factor Kuper uses to determine the RIF line.

Knowing that some teachers have special endorsements to teach classes that have mandated staffing requirements, like special education, Kuper can’t count them among teachers who will be laid off. That pushes the RIF line further up the seniority list.

But because of the funding swings on a state budget that has not yet been approved, Kuper said it has been hard to set the RIF line.

If he sets it too high, more teachers than necessary will be informed that their job may be at risk.

“I would like to spare anyone that pain,” he said.

If he sets the line too low, the district is obligated to employ all of the teachers above the line for one full year, despite funding availability, he said.

Next steps

Official layoff notices will go to teachers May 1, Kuper said.

As the district’s budget continues to be reconciled and enrollment numbers increase, several teachers who receive lay-off notices could be called back to work, Kuper said. Callbacks are determined by specialty and seniority.

The district’s human resources department is ready to answer questions and help teachers transition. District officials have already arranged three transition workshops to help connect teachers with jobs, unemployment resources and other essentials, Niegowski said.

Important dates

April 22: School Board members informed of potential layoffs.

April 26: Last day of regular legislative session. A special session likely to be convened to resolve the state budget.

May 1: Reduction in force notices given to certified staff members.

May 27: Last day for public testimony regarding use of I-728 money

Aug. 17: Final public hearing for the district’s 2009-10 budget

Aug. 31: School board adopts final 2009-10 budget.

Teacher transition workshops

4-6 p.m. May 6, 20 and June 2 at the administration building, 565 N.W. Holly St.

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.
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