Tuesday, February 24, 2009

School Math

For the last few months, everyone here at school has been quietly freaking out. We are not normally an excitable group, but when under the threat of change we can become agitated. When under the threat of enormous change, even the most reserved among us begins to sweat. The cause of our concern? Change like nobody has seen in at least a generation.

We've known for some time that the opening of a new program would mean re-assignment for about one quarter of our workforce. However, we were all greatly relieved when we got the news that the new program would not be opening in 09/10 due to construction delays. "Yay!" we all said "one more year of normalcy!" Ha! Ha! such innocents we were then.

Starting in November, as the economy began to go so obviously south, we began to hear rumblings of bad times ahead. When the news came out that the governor expected a 3.6 billion budget shortfall in the next year, some people began to mutter about possible cuts. Special programs could be limited or eliminated, class sizes might go up, and we might not get another cost of living adjustment (COLA) for some time. It sounded unpleasant, but we thought we could weather that kind of storm.

Sometime in late January it came out that estimates on the budge deficit had changed. Instead of 3.6 we were looking at something more like 5-6 billion. This is when the real lay-off talk began. By one estimate, we could lose5-8% of our teaching force. This would mean job losses for a few and big changes for some those left behind as principals would have to scramble to cover the missing teachers. Times are hard, we told ourselves, but most of us will get through this largely unscathed.

Still with me? Good. You can guess what happened next. The new budget estimate is somewhere around 9-10 billion. The superintendent of the district came to tell us that lay-offs were a certainty and that we could expect to lose at least 10% of the teaching force. He also warned us that it could be much worse if things continue to decline. It turns out that there is no legal limit on the number of students in one regular education classroom in Washington. They can keep cramming kids into our rooms until they reach the fire code limit. Classrooms of 40 or 50 kids are a very real possibility.

Seniority, something we never had much interest in before all this, is suddenly very important. The system of lay-off and re-call does not allow for the removal of the poorest quality teachers, instead it is based entirely on years of experience. If you have enough seniority, you might survive the chop. However, it is a terrible thing to look at all your co-workers and hope that they will get laid off instead of you.

Those who stay behind are not safe from major upheaval either. Along with massively larger work loads and lower pay, teachers who stay behind will have to fill the gap for those who go. This means that many people will have to be transferred to fill essential roles. For example, all the newest teachers in our building happen to be in the same department and grade. We can't simply not have that class in that grade, so the principal will have to draw off one or two people from the other areas to fill the need. A person could even find themselves working in a building at the extreme opposite end of our district which would mean a commuting two towns over. Does any of that make any sense? I'm not so sure anymore.

I could go on for days. The uncertainty is hard on all of us. Teaching attracts the type of person who likes to be prepared for things. We attempt to analyze future needs and begin to meet them in good time. We are not last minute kinds of people. However, if you don't have a clue where you'll be or what you'll be expected to do, it is very difficult to get a jump on the work. I know teachers are not alone in all this. I imagine the Tums people are doing a roaring trade right about now.

No comments: