Thursday, May 23, 2002

Budget crunch squeezes teachers

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit learned the feel of a budget crunch as a young social-studies teacher in Bloomington, Ind.

        He was laid off.

        “I ended up leaving,” Mr. Wilhoit said in an interview. “I didn't wait around.”

        History is repeating itself these days in Kentucky, where the General Assembly has failed to pass a state budget. That has played havoc with local school districts, which by law had to make next year's hiring decisions by April 30.

        Many of the state's 176 school districts ordered layoffs. The total is uncertain but is easily in the hundreds.

        While most districts hope to call back employees once a budget is enacted, not all will get the chance, Mr. Wilhoit said. They will end up losing some young teachers they specifically recruited for hard-to-fill positions, he said.

        “When school opens, you're probably going to see some schools scrambling around for special-education and math teachers. In many cases, those less-tenured people are in the special-education and mathematics areas,” Mr. Wilhoit said in an interview.

        Not exclusively, however.

        McCracken County schools laid off 108 employees. The casualties included Heath High School band director Tony Brown. “I was pink-slipped,” Mr. Brown, a teacher for seven years, said in a telephone interview.

        Mr. Brown said he was handed a layoff notice at the hospital “as my wife is holding my 1-day-old son. I knew it was coming, but it was a little tough.”

        Mr. Brown said he quickly put out feelers and had good leads on jobs in Kentucky and Illinois. “My position was, "OK, let's just go find another job,'” he said. That won't be necessary, apparently. Mr. Brown said he since has been given an assurance of being rehired when a budget is enacted, so he plans to stay at Heath.

        In Logan County, Superintendent Marshall Kemp said he automatically had to lay off teachers with emergency certificates because they must be renewed annually. Most were in special education.

        But because layoffs are based in part on seniority, leaders of many school districts fear losing an investment if their best young teachers get snapped up by other districts, Kentucky School Boards Association spokesman Brad Hughes said.

        “You've gotten them through their hardest first year, helped them hone their teaching skills, and then you lose them to someone else,” Mr. Hughes said. At the same time, “nobody blames these folks for looking around because they've got to put food on the table and pay the electric bill,” he said.

        Mr. Wilhoit said districts can revise their budgets quickly if Gov. Paul Patton calls the General Assembly back into session and a state budget is enacted before the new fiscal year on July 1.


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