Teacher layoff issue dominates school board meeting
How Plumas Unified School District and the Plumas County Office of Education will handle teacher layoffs was a top topic of discussion at the school board meeting March 15.
Bruce Williams, in his role as director of Human Resources, led off the discussion with a handout that walked through the district’s process, frequently asked questions, applicable parts of the education code and the district’s contract with the Plumas County Teachers Association.
One topic of concern was the future availability of Advanced Placement (AP) courses. In his FAQs, Williams said that of the 18 current AP teachers in the district, two were being laid off and one was being bumped to an elementary school. He noted that the district could train additional AP teachers by sending them to summer training institutes.
When pressed on this issue from the floor by Quincy High School teacher Ron Logan, Williams said, “There are 15 AP qualified teachers teaching in the Plumas County schools.”
Breaking it down:
75 Number of teachers who received a notice
38.67 Full-time equivalents (32.5 PUSD and 6.17 PCOE)
23 Number of teachers bumped to another assignment but not reduced
52 Number of teachers whose employment will be reduced or eliminated
24 Number of teachers whose employment will be reduced, but who will not be completely laid off
28 Number of teachers who will be completely laid off (some of these currently work part-time)
44 Number of teachers who received a notice who requested a layoff hearing
On or before March 15: Initial layoff notices sent
Before May 7: Layoff hearings take place
On or before May 15: Final layoff notices sent
Prior to June 30: School board can rescind a layoff
June 30: Layoffs take effect
After June 30: Board can re-hire laid-off employees
—Qualifications: Includes credentials and special training
—Certificated employees who provide certain kinds of services will be “skipped,” or not laid off: special education teachers, nurses and Reading Recovery faculty.
—No less-senior employee will be retained to perform a service that a more-senior, laid-off employee is qualified to perform.
Class ratios for 2012-13
QHS — 22:1
CHS — 18:1
PHS — 25:1
GHS (current) — 14:1
“Do you plan to maintain AP classes?” Logan asked.
“We have a plan to make a plan,” Williams replied.
He was asked if a teacher with lower seniority but with AP training could be rehired ahead of a teacher with more seniority but no AP training. “We did not consider AP training as a skill,” Williams said.
The district did, however, consider Reading Recovery training as a special skill.
Asked later why the two trainings were treated differently, Williams said RR requires more in the way of certification and continuing education. “AP and RR teachers are both special and both provide critical services to the district. The difference is in the training required for certification. The training for AP is five days in the summer. The training for RR is five days in the summer, and 32 evening trainings during the ensuing school year. During the training year, RR teachers must provide RR services to four students for 30 minutes per day, five days per week, under the supervision of a RR teacher leader. After they are certified, RR teachers must attend six continuing contact trainings per year to keep their certification current.”
Class size was another topic of concern. The district used a 35:1 student-to-teacher ratio in projections for next year’s staffing. Williams said in his handout that high school principals were instructed to build their master schedules with a maximum of 35 students in any given class, a significant increase from this year’s 25:1. Principals were also directed to maintain all pre-collegiate requirements, referred to as A-G requirements.
Williams explained that this produced more class sections than a straight 35:1 ratio would produce. The result was class sizes that ranged from 18:1 at Chester High School to 25:1 at Portola High School.
Williams wrote, “The nature of high school classes is that each one will have a different size, and a student’s day will include classes that are larger and classes that are smaller than these averages. Music and PE classes usually exceed 35:1, and vocational courses are usually in the teens. Sometimes ‘bottlenecks’ in the master schedule result in larger classes, particularly in graduation requirements.”
Greenville High School teacher Travis Rubke asked Williams why the district used the 35:1 ratio.
Williams looked to Superintendent Glenn Harris for help. Harris said the district considered 30, 35 and 40 and decided to ask the principals to do 35.
“But 30:1 could substantially change the outlook for any one school,” Rubke said.
“Yes,” Harris replied.
Later, during the public comment portion of the PUSD meeting, Logan, one of several teachers in the audience sporting bright pink shirts that read, “How can students get ahead when teachers are left behind,” orchestrated an audience participation exercise to demonstrate what 35 kids in a classroom would look like. Two assistants used a tape measure to mark off the size of a classroom. Logan had 25, then 35 “students” from the audience occupy the space with their chairs. Logan pointed out that moving from 25 to 35 students in a classroom represented a 40 percent increase in class size.
Quincy attorney Michael Jackson asked Williams if the board decides against certain school closures, wouldn’t that change the number of teachers the district needs to lay off?
Williams said it depended. In the case of GHS, it would depend on the configuration the board chose. Several times during the meeting, Williams emphasized that the layoffs were due to a number of factors, including the proposed school closures and consolidations, the district’s declining student enrollment and the district’s financial situation. He repeated several times that the layoffs were a result of a “reduction in services.”
Jeff Cunan, another Quincy attorney and father of three school-age boys, told Williams that according to the way he read the applicable section of education code the district needed to show a correlation between the reduction in services and number of layoffs.
He urged the board to do everything possible to reduce the number of layoffs. “Reduce it down to just teachers and students and a slate in a grove,” he said.