The Oregonian, Tuesday, April 2, 1996, pp. A1 & A9

Teachers get word on layoffs

  • Monday and again today, Portland Public Schools principals are handing out 278 notices to those with little seniority

    By Steven Carter
    of The Oregonian staff

    All over the Portland School District, principals today will be quietly repeating a short but grim message to first-, second- and third-year teachers:

    Nothing personal, but there probably will be no job for you next fall.

    By the end of the day, principals will have given out 278 layoff notices. Any teacher hired after Oct. 9, 1993, probably will get a letter; the layoffs are strictly by seniority.

    "It's a tragedy," said John Alkire, principal at Sellwood Middle School in Southeast Portland. "All my probationary teachers this year are really good. It's a tragedy to lose them."

    Alkire and other principals actually began giving some probationary teachers their layoff notices Monday.

    The layoffs are Portland's first of any significance involving classroom teachers since 1990's Ballot Measure 5, the property tax limitation, began to affect the district budget in 1991.

    Until now, reductions have occurred outside the classroom. The district has eliminated about 620 positions - virtually all of them administrators, secretaries, custodians, social workers and others who don't teach.

    Even though 278 new teachers will be getting notices, it's too early to tell whether all of them will indeed be gone next fall.

    Edward Schmitt, the district's personnel director, said the 278 notices were sent out on a best estimate of how many teachers will leave on their own between now and next fall. The more people who retire, take leave or move to another job, the fewer layoffs there have to be.

    "It's a fluid number," Schmitt said. "If we have greater retirements, we can call people back from layoffs. If we don't have as much attrition as we anticipate, then we may have to turn around and lay some additional people off."

    Based on next year's budget of $304 million, the school district says it will have to cut 513 positions to balance the books. The $9 million in emergency money the district got from the city last month won't help - that money is committed to existing programs plus teacher and staff raises.

    [Jump headline on p. A9:] Cuts: President of union differs with estimate

    The district came to the 278 figure this way: 85 of the 513 positions will come from not rehiring temporary teachers. The district figures there will be 50 retirements, and 75 other people leaving for a variety of reasons. Finally, 25 of the positions lost will come from nonteaching ranks: secretaries, administrators, custodians and others.

    James K. Sager, president of the Portland Association of Teachers, disputes the district's estimate of 278 teacher layoffs.

    "We believe 200 to 250 teachers are going to retire or resign," Sager said. "If you look at the trends for the last couple of years, I think that number is pretty solid."

    Sager said that for every two teachers at the top of the pay scale who leave, the district can retain three people at the bottom of the pay scale. The average teacher costs the district $53,000 in salary and benefits under the three-year labor contract approved last week.

    Teacher layoffs have been threatened in the recent past in Portland but never carried out.

    In 1990, two days before Measure 5 was approved, former Superintendent Matthew W. Prophet said he would have to give a pink slip to everyone in the district. Prophet said later he regretted the statement.

    At the outset of the 1994-95 discussions, Superintendent Jack Bierwirth said there could be as many as 600 jobs lost. All elementary music and physical education teachers' jobs were threatened. In the end, however, the district gained about $10 million in revenue by getting extra money from the state plus using excess amounts in the teachers' health and welfare trust funds. No classroom teachers were cut.

    This time, though, there appears to be no hidden pot of money. The district's cash reserves are down to $1 million, and there is no excess in any trust funds.

    "There's no slop anywhere," said Byron Kellar of the Citizens Budget Review Committee, a group that scrutinizes the district's budget each year.

    One ray of hope might come from the Portland Public Schools Foundation, a private, nonprofit organization that is raising money for teachers and programs. At the outside, it is hoping to gather $5 million from private citizens and businesses, although it says that $2 million to $3 million might be more realistic. In the week since it published its first appeal, $20,000 has come in the door.

    Each $1 million raised could pay for 20 to 25 teachers.

    At Sellwood, second-year teacher Jim McNeely got his layoff notice Monday from Alkire. He knew it was coming, and he was philosophical.

    "I have never had a hard time making a living, and I have some options," McNeely said. "I can always go to work as a substitute next year. I have had a warehousing job I could go back to if need be. I've done construction work over the years.

    "I am not sour at this point. I think one of the reasons I am able to accept this is because I am appreciated here. I don't think this is personal. If it were, maybe I would be sour."

    Portland Public Schools Employment
         Cuts in jobs
    1996            513
    1995              7.3
    1994            182.4*
    1993            303.0*
    1992             75.6      
    1991             52.3
    Total cuts:   1,133.6
    Since 1991 when Measure 5 went into effect, Portland Public Schools have reduced
    full-time equivalent positions by more than 600. Another 513 are expected to be cut this spring
    to balance next year's budget.
    * Note - 30 positions in 1993 and 60 positions in 1994 were reductions in positions
    that had been budgeted for enrollment growth, but not filled.
    Source: Portland Public Schools

    Portland NORML notes: While voters OK'd almost $300 million for jails in the May 21 election (See our notes at the bottom of 'Books and crooks' OK with county voters), a $15 million fund-raising drive spearheaded by volunteers from the Portland Public Schools Foundation during the same period succeeded in raising enough money to save about 200 teaching jobs, at least for another year, as noted in "Final school tally: $10.6 million" (The Oregonian, June 12, 1996, p. B1). Of the $10.6 million successfully raised, according to the article, $7.65 million came through a gift from Multnomah County, $1.5 million from businesses and $1.5 million from individuals. This is good news, but it still means lots of teachers and other school employees will lose their jobs and, worse, the problem of adequately funding public schools from tax revenue has in no way been resolved.



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