Uncertainty for teachers -- worse than the bad news

One teacher, a media resource room specialist, doesn't know whether he is in or out. There could be a job for him in the fall, he has been told. Maybe not the same job he has now, but a job . . . if the state increases local aid . . . if he has seniority in another area of certification . . . if enough people retire.

The "ifs" don't matter anymore, he said. After 16 years in education, he wants out.

Karen Cardillo wants in. But with only one year of experience, she is definitely out.

And Glenn Chaple, who has been in for eight years, is out, too, although he would rather be in. His wife, with two years of experience, will be in, even though she had planned to be out with their newborn baby. She can't afford to risk her seniority, they have decided.

With certification given by subject matter and seniority tied to available positions within a department, not on a schoolwide basis, one teacher's two years of experience can command more job security than another's eight.

Such are the ins and outs of education in Massachusetts as the school year ends.

While Propostion 2 1/2 is holding down everyone's tax bills by limiting increases to 2.5 percent of property valuations, it is shaking up the lives of thousands of classroom teachers, specialists, and administrators.

An estimated 12,000 educators will lose their jobs this year, according to the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

And many more have probably received dismissal notices as school committees "covered" themselves. Most teacher contracts require dismissal notification in April. Many school systems sent notices to anyone who might possibly have to be let go and left open the possibility of calling them back.

The uncertainty has only made it worse, said the media specialist, who asked that his name not be used. He has 16 years of experience, 8 in his present position. But with no one under him in his department his seniority is not sufficient to secure his job.

He may have seniority in other departments where he is also certified, he said, and may get a position. It could be August before he knows for sure.

"What do you tell them when you go home?" he said. "Do you have a job? Don't you have a job? How do you make decisions in your life?"

One decision he has made is to look for a new career, whether he is teaching again or not.

"I will be very happy the day I can leave, even though I love education," he said, explaining that Proposition 2 1/2 has taken the enthusiasm as well as the money out of education.

"Education has lost its opportunity to grow," he said. "I'm young enough that I don't want to go through about 30 years with no growth potential. It's just not there."

For Karen Cardillo the dismissal notice was a certainty before Proposition 2 1/2 was approved by the voters. If it didn't get her, declining enrollments would, she was told when she took the job teaching home economics in a middle school in Framingham. The certainty has made it easier for her than for other teachers, she said.

"There has been a lot of tension among the staff. I would say I was one of the least tense," she said. "I knew right from the start it could be one year. I look at it this way: I had an opportunity to teach for a year."

It has also been easier for her, she said, because she does not have a family to support and can be flexible about moving to take a new job. In addition she has not taken graduate courses and invested years in teaching.

"I don't feel like my whole life has been teaching so I can't do anything else," she said.

Unlike teachers with more years in the classroom or those whose careers have been left up in the air, she had not been bitter or angry, she said.

Glenn Chaple, however, was angry and still is sometimes, he said.

"Proposition 2 1/2 was made to trim the fat. With six years of college and seven years of experience, I hate to think of myself as fat," he said. Now, he said, he just feels "washed out about the whole thing."

With a background in education and a freelance writing career already started , he is confident he will be able to build a new career. But the anger still comes to the surface when he looks at the public's response to budget cuts.

"I'm still living in the state that put this through," he said. There have been no thanks or condolences from the public, the administrators, or the school committee in Fitchburg, where he teaches.

"They [the public] are fighting like crazy to save the athletic program, but hardly a finger is being raised to help the academic teachers that have been cut ," he said. "I feel unimportant, that what I teach is unimportant."

Next year he will be writing, teaching astronomy at Fitchburg State College, working on getting another job, and taki ng care of his two children.

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