Thursday, January 23, 2003

Tenured teachers may face layoffs

Ky. schools chief says state budget cuts have districts pondering move

The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Some school districts, if forced to make further budget cuts, doubt they can balance their books without laying off tenured teachers, Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit said Wednesday.

"The easy reductions ... have already been done," Mr. Wilhoit told a House budget subcommittee. "Some districts are considering having to move beyond first-year teachers" in making layoffs.

State-funded agencies, including schools and Mr. Wilhoit's Department of Education, are under orders to plan for a 5.2 percent cut in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Gov. Paul Patton's administration now expects a shortfall of about $400 million in that period unless the General Assembly raises taxes.

Tenure ordinarily is equated with job security. Unlike a district's most junior teachers, those with tenure cannot be fired at will. To gain tenure, a teacher must have begun his or her fifth year of teaching in the same district.

But Mr. Wilhoit said school districts "have very little latitude to do anything at this point."

"We've had some conversations with some districts that don't see at this point how they're going to be able to balance the budget, with the projections that are being made ... without getting into the tenured staff situations," he said.

Compounding their problems, school boards have until Jan. 31 to submit draft budgets to Mr. Wilhoit's department for the next school year. Local school councils have to be given their funding allocations March 1. Teachers and other certified staff have to be told by April 30 whether they are being rehired for the next school year.

"Seems to me it boils down to one thing: cutting staff in our schools," said state Rep. Charlie Miller, a high school principal from Louisville.

In addition, young teachers in high demand fields such as science, math and special education will go elsewhere if they cannot be guaranteed a job, Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Wilhoit agreed, noting that many Kentucky teachers already are eligible to retire. "The young teachers, who are most vulnerable to this situation, might make other choices," he said. "After staffing decisions are made and pink slips go out this spring for those teachers, obviously they're going to look out for their own welfare."

That raises the specter of tenured teachers, untrained in those fields, having to fill in.

Also Wednesday, groups representing business and every level of schooling issued a public call for Mr. Patton and the General Assembly to increase - not cut - education funding.

The groups, banding together as Partners for Kentucky's Future, include all the state's public universities, various education advocacy groups, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and state associations for teachers, school boards and superintendents.

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