Forty teachers receive pink slips


As of Monday, 40 Gilroy teachers are without a job come next
school year.
As of Monday, 40 Gilroy teachers are without a job come next school year.

In a grim ceremony teachers and administrators had been dreading for weeks, principals distributed layoff notices to 39 kindergarten through eighth grade teachers and one teacher at the district’s Community Day School. The layoffs will increase class sizes by as many as eight children in some classrooms but will save the school district more than $2 million.

“I’m worried I’m going to be living out of a box,” Stephanie Anderson said with a wry laugh.

The 26-year-old sixth grade language arts and social studies teacher at Ascencion Solorsano Middle School who wasn’t invited to return to teach next year said she’s dreading the job hunt.

“I really want to stay at Solorsano, so I’m trying to be optimistic,” she said. “I’ve just been so happy. My principal (Sal Tomasello) and the other teachers have been so supportive. The children are awesome.”

Except for the recent turn of events, “It’s been an ideal first year,” she said. “I’ve been very lucky.”

But as one of the very last teachers to be hired, it’s unlikely Anderson will get her job back. Her last day of work is June 11. After that, it’s back to the job boards. Even with a master’s degree in education, just getting the job at Solorsano was a stroke of luck, she said. And since nearly every other school district in the state is in the same boat as the Gilroy Unified School District, Anderson said she knows many qualified, yet unemployed, teachers.

From one former layoff victim to 40 others: “Go to your principal, be honest with them, get that letter of (recommendation), prepare yourself for the hiring fairs and go to every single one of them,” said Rob Swart, emphasizing the last part. “I got hired out of plain tenacity.”

Swart, now 33 and in his first year teaching ninth and 10th grade English at Gilroy High School, received a pink slip last spring when his former employer, East Side Union High School District, laid off more than 100 teachers.

“It’s a miserable experience, those last 2.5 months of school,” he said, as he pedaled his bike home after school one day. “You feel betrayed.”

Although he understood why his former district – and now GUSD – had to make the cuts they did, receiving a notice that, in essence, read “thank you for your service but we don’t want you back next year,” dealt a swift blow to teacher morale, he said.

“What went away was teachers’ willingness to bear the brunt of certain things we would normally just suck up and deal with before,” Swart said. In terms of handling discipline issues, “the line of where a student would cross to make us send them out of the classroom got a lot shorter.

“The biggest thing is that the desire to become part of the district community dissipates,” he said.

Brought in as an emergency hire to fill a gap in the English department at James Lick High School in San Jose, Swart wasn’t even at his job for eight months before he received his layoff notice.

“The worst part was that, suddenly, there’s 30,000 teachers out of work and they’re all scrambling for a tiny number of jobs,” Swart said.

When he told his classes he wouldn’t be returning the following year, four of his students burst into tears, he remembered.

When a district goes through layoffs, “bumping” become a “nightmare,” said Michelle Nelson, president of the Gilroy Teachers Association. Although math, science and special education teachers will be spared because their positions are so difficult to fill, the remaining teachers’ seniority is determined by a complicated points system. Fewer points means less of a chance of surviving the layoffs.

In order to save jobs and keep classes sizes down, teachers proposed reducing the school year from 180 to 176 days, an option offered by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that many school districts are taking advantage of to make ends meet.

“The quality of instruction of 176 days with lower class sizes will be better than 180 days with higher class sizes,” Nelson said. “And I’m totally convinced that that’s true.”

The teachers’ proposal would keep class sizes in the primary grades significantly lower, reduce the school year and save about $1.8 million.

But according to Superintendent Deborah Flores, “there is very little research that indicates class size makes a difference in student achievement.”

Even if the empirical data on the positive effects of small class sizes is lacking, parents and teachers love them.

“Yes, we used to have class sizes of 30 in kindergarten, but we didn’t have the standards and expectations that we do now,” Nelson said. “We didn’t have No Child Left Behind” – a federal mandate that requires schools and districts to meet annual testing criteria. “The bar has been raised considerably so we don’t know what would happen if we recreate class sizes with 30 students.”

The district’s proposal includes increasing class sizes in kindergarten and first grade from 20 to 24, in second and third grades from 20 to 28, keeping fourth and fifth grades at 32, increasing middle school classes from 32 to 33, and keeping high school classes at 34. Instead of reducing the school year by four days, the district proposed removing three teacher work days from the year and asking the teachers union to reimburse the district for Nelson’s salary, according to the a budget update on the district’s Web site.

“Research shows that in reality, the best academic performance is achieved when there are more school days, not less,” trustee Francisco Dominguez said.

“If funding were not an issue, we would increase the number of instructional days for students as many industrialized nations have done,” Flores said.

The district has also said that it could close its budget gap, keep class sizes low, prevent layoffs and continue with 180 days of instruction if teachers take pay cuts. The school district and teachers have yet to schedule their next negotiating session.

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