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Layoff notices stun teachers

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Darryl Enriquez
February 25, 2011
— Emotional tsunamis hammered local educators Thursday as many received early notices of potential layoffs for the 2011-2012 school year.

In the Delavan-Darien School District, administrators handed out 41 preliminary non-renewal notices to teachers in anticipation of large cuts in state aid.


The question of whether preliminary notices forecast job losses could not be answered. But the dread and fear that the notices drove into teachers was undeniable, a union negotiator said Thursday.


The uncertainty of Gov. Scott Walker's controversial budget repair bill and his pending biennial budget has caused some school districts to scramble and get preliminary notices into teachers' hands by the end of this month.


In Janesville, school district officials are meeting with an attorney today to learn about the budget repair bill and its impact on them. The attorney also will advise district officials on whether they need to follow union contracts or state law regarding when to issue preliminary non-renewal notices.


Walker's measures have angered teachers who feel they are being unfairly targeted, but the sensation of being handed non-renewal slips by their school principals is brutal and numbing, said Lonnie Wallace, president of Delavan-Darien Education Association.


"It scares the hell out of people, especially those who are nearing retirement," Wallace said. "It's a numbing feeling, a feeling of hopelessness."


The Delavan-Darien School Board told Superintendent Wendy Overturf on Wednesday to issue early non-renewal notices to 41 teachers.


The move was to cover an anticipated $1.2 million reduction in revenue, Overturf said. That figure is the anticipated maximum the district could lose in state funding, she said.


Overturf said district officials did what they could to minimize the trauma.


"I certainly understand because I would feel the same way," she said. "As we planned on how to do this, we had discussion with the association on how to best minimize anxiety, knowing that there was little we could do to totally eliminate it."


Final non-renewal notices, according to state statute, must be handed to teachers by March 15, and they must receive 15 days notice that they are being considered for layoffs.


That's why preliminary notices must be handed out by Feb. 28, she said.


East Troy School District Administrator Chris Hibner said layoff notices usually are handed out in mid-April, but the deadline was moved up because of the doubtful future of teachers' bargaining rights.


Under the worst fiscal scenario, Hibner said his district could face a loss of up to $877,000 in state and local revenue.


Hibner stressed that handing out of the notices doesn't mean the teachers won't be asked to come back for the next school year.


Steve Carlson, president of the Delavan-Darien School Board, said he hopes the number of layoffs is nowhere close to the 41 preliminary notices given out.


"However, we're operating with so many unknowns at this point, we need to be prepared for any and all eventualities regarding our budget when so much of its funding comes from state and federal sources," he said.


Since little time remains to analyze other budget cuts, the 41 teachers who received preliminary layoff notices more than cover the amount needed for the potential $1.2 million loss, Overturf said.


The district will continue to look for other cuts, she said. After more details about revenue are known, the actual number of teacher layoffs is expected to be fewer than the number of initial non-renewal notices the board approved, Carlson said.


If the budget repair bill is passed by the Legislature, the district could further balance its budget by reducing employer costs for pensions and health insurance.


Wallace said he understands the need for fiscal cuts. He doesn't understand the why it's being handled in a way that is causing knee-knocking fear.


"Let me put it this way," Wallace said. "Thanks to Governor Walker, he's forcing the district to do something it doesn't want to do. We're not happy."



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