Stimulus money puts teachers in layoff limbo
Funds trickle out, leaving many state and local education budgets in flux.
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Her union, United Teachers Los Angeles, has urged the district to make other cuts and use more of the stimulus money right away to save teachers' jobs. "The district is playing with people's lives," says president A.J. Duffy. "If they continue what they say they are doing, which is finding the fat, they could find the extra money," he says. The group is planning demonstrations in the coming weeks.Skip to next paragraph
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With a projected shortfall of $1.4 billion over the next two years, largely because of state cuts, the L.A. schools cannot avoid increasing class sizes and cutting some teachers, district leaders say. Without the stimulus, "it would have been twice as bad," says school board president Mónica García. More than 1,000 jobs are being cut from the administrative side, she notes.
The board plans to seek additional stimulus dollars that the US Department of Education will be handing out on a competitive basis to districts that pursue key reforms. "We didn't want to just preserve the status quo ... and we heard Washington say loud and clear ... 'We're going to be holding you accountable for results,' " Ms. García says.
For states to obtain one part of the stimulus designated primarily for education (called stabilization funds), they must submit an application to the US Department of Education explaining how the money will be used. California, South Dakota, and Illinois are the first states to have their applications approved. Almost $4 billion – $2.6 billion of it for K-12 – was released to California last weekend, for instance, and it can apply for another $2 billion this fall.
Van Winkle says she understands that budget cuts are necessary, but she thinks they're falling too heavily on teachers. In her school, students stay with the same teacher in sixth and seventh grades, so they "could be losing a teacher they've made a deep connection with," she says. She and many of her colleagues are hopeful that putting up a fight might save their jobs, "but it would be naive to count on that," she says. "We should start looking, but we're so attached to our school and our students that we're kind of in denial."
In Arizona, educators are waiting to see how deep state cuts will be. The Gilbert Public School district looked at a "worst-case scenario" and sent layoff notices to 267 teachers and more than 100 other staff by an April 15 deadline, says board president Thad Stump. Under this scenario, the district will need to cut $27 million for next year, a little more than 10 percent of its current budget.
Officials there hope to find savings in other areas and recall a substantial number of those teachers once the budget is finalized. But it could be late June before budget numbers come in from the state.