State board reports 2,000 teacher layoffs in 2010

   By Diane S.W. Lee (Illinois Statehouse News) — 3/21/2011 — More than 2,000 Illinois public school teachers got pink slips last year, and superintendents claim state budget cuts and late state aid payments are to blame.
   The Illinois State Board of Education last week released its annual report of school districts statewide, showing public schools in 2010 laid off a total of 2,102 tenured and non-tenured teachers. That was 664 more layoffs than in 2009.
   However, 42 other school districts did not submit data last year, including the Chicago School District, meaning the number of teacher layoffs are likely higher than reported, according to ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus.
    “We know that it can mean a little less attention in the classroom,” said Fergus. “It can mean students aren’t getting access to some really great instruction that can enhance their education.”
The report also shows that since 2008, tenured and non-tenured teaching positions that were eliminated had increased from 39 percent to 66 percent in 2010. More non-tenured teachers were shown the door than tenured ones last year than in previous years.
    Schools are getting less money and are having to lay off teachers as a result of budget cuts, Fergus said.
    “General state aid has gone out on a timely basis, but a lot of the mandated categorical payments have been delayed,” Fergus said. “We’ve been running about a billion dollars behind in some of those payments at the state level, because of this very national recession that we’re in.”
   General state aid is the state’s largest education funding program, and categorical aid is state and federal money given to local school districts for special education programs.
   Crystal Lake School District lost more than $5 million in state funding in the past few years, said chief financial officer Susan Harkin. 
    “We certainly don’t have other avenues to really go out and raise more money, and certainly we aren’t in an environment to raise taxes, specifically, because that seems to be the only place we can go to,” Harkin said. “And for our situation, when we are 75 percent of budget in salaries and benefits, you really have to look at that line item to find some significant reductions to offset that larger loss in revenue.”
   As a result, the school district had to reduce staff by offering early retirement to teachers and leaving those positions unfilled, Harkin said. Fifteen teachers took early retirement last year, and 22 more positions will be left unfilled this year, she said. The district’s school board worked closely with the teachers’ union to freeze pay this year to prevent future reductions, she said.
    “Had they not worked with us to negotiate what we felt was a fair contract,” Harkin said, “we would have had to get into the layoff mode that a lot of school districts are in right now.”
   Kaneland Community School District had to work hard to prevent layoffs last year, because six non-tenured support positions were cut in 2009, said Superintendent Jeff Schuler.
   “Last year, we did reduce a number of folks, but then we worked with our teachers’ union to restructure the salary agreement,” Schuler said. “And, so that wound up preserving the jobs last year.”
    The school district can withstand late payments, he said, but budget cuts are more harmful because it is harder to replace lost revenue.
    “Quite honestly we already run on a pretty lean and a pretty efficient budget,” Schuler said. “And so anytime that we learn that we are going to get less revenue in the next year, that’s not going to be good for us, there’s no doubt about it.”
   Story courtesy of Illinois Statehouse News. Originally published 3/18/2011