Mountain View Voice

News - March 25, 2011

52 teachers could lose jobs

Pink slips at Los Altos School District sap morale, draw criticism

by Nick Veronin

A total of 52 teachers in the Los Altos School District have been notified that they may lose their jobs — an announcement that has drawn criticism, impacted teacher morale and may ultimately lead to unnecessary loss of staff, district officials said.

In an effort to make up for major cuts at the state and federal level, Randy Kenyon, assistant superintendent of the district, said that 42 full-time equivalent positions would need to be cut in a "worst case scenario," which assumes many things — including that many of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed cuts and taxes will not be approved and that a proposed Los Altos parcel tax will also fail.

The pink slips were issued on March 14. According to state law, school districts are required to give notice by March 15 to employees who may be laid off at the end of the school year.

Kenyon acknowledged that morale has been dampened and that valued teachers in the district may find new work before the cuts become final on May 15. But, because state law requires the notices to be sent out, and because of the current financial straits California is experiencing, there was really no way around it, he said.

"We've got a significant cut in funding for next year," Kenyon said. "We've lost over $4 million — potentially $5 million — from the state."

In the previous year, Kenyon said, federal stimulus money helped plug the "significant funding hole" his district is facing. This year, however, the Los Altos School District, which draws 25 percent of its student body from Mountain View, is running out of options.

Without the passage of Measure E — the proposed parcel tax up for a vote in May — Kenyon said his district has no other choice but to begin cutting teachers.

Ron Haley, a Los Altos Hills resident and vocal critic of how the district spends its money, said he thinks the district could easily avoid the layoffs without the approval of the parcel tax.

"I think it's bad if any of the teachers are cut," Haley said, "and I don't see a reason why any of them should be cut."

Haley is currently leading a campaign against Measure E — which proponents say would raise about $2.3 million for the Los Altos School District over six years with an annual $193 per-parcel tax.

He opposes the parcel tax for many of the same reasons he believes the layoff notices are unnecessary.

"One of the reasons they've gotten in this predicament is because of what they are paying their teachers," he said, noting that the average teacher in the Los Altos School District takes in an annual salary and benefits package of $99,000. Haley argues that all the positions on the chopping block could be saved if teachers in the district were willing to tighten their belts a bit.

Jim Grijalva, president of the Los Altos School District's teachers union doesn't see it that way.

"He is entitled to his opinion," Grijalva said, referring to Haley, "but it is a pretty drastic one. The type of cuts we'd have to agree to would be to give up every last health benefit that we have."

To say that Los Altos teachers are overpaid, would be "like saying every teacher in the state is overpaid," the union president said. The real reason that the district is considering such drastic cuts, according to Grijalva, is the weakened economy. "We have been on a decline for a couple years now. It is just decimating schools everywhere."

Kenyon verified Haley's figures: teachers in the district do take home nearly $100,000 in overall compensation on average, he said — about $78,000 in salary and $21,000 in other benefits. However, he added, the average teacher in the district has 15 years of experience.

"We have great teachers," Kenyon said, "There are many veteran teachers. It does create stress on the budget, but we value quality teachers and we want to retain them as long as they're performing at a high level."

The district is exploring a structured system for furlough days and has been working on making appropriate cuts to the benefits packages of administrators, teachers and other school employees, Kenyon said. But that isn't going to be enough to save all the positions.

Grijalva doesn't anticipate that the "worst case scenario" will come to pass, but he is bracing for at least 25 teachers to ultimately lose their jobs in May. About 14 of those teachers are temporary teachers, he said — hired on a yearly contractual basis.

The majority of the cuts are likely to fall in non-academic and non-core areas, such as physical education and the arts, Grijalva said. However, if the worst case does come to pass, some core subject instructors will likely be cut at the junior high level, which will result in a class size increase.

In the meantime, Grijalva said, the teachers who have been noticed are likely to look for new work, which could have deleterious results. Not only could these teachers find new jobs and leave the district, he said, but the damage to morale, along with the time-consuming nature of searching for work, is likely to keep instructors from performing at the top of their game.

"Their hours, when they get home, when they could be working on lesson plans, are going to be dedicated to looking for work," Grijalva said. "They've got to look out for themselves."

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