Teachers, staff and administrators could face layoffs

by: TIMES PHOTO: GEOFF PURSINGER - Tigard-Tualatin School Districts Interim Superintendent Roger Rada laid out plans for the 2013-14 budget this week, which will likely include layoffs to teachers and administrators totaling about $4 million.Standing in front of a room of concerned parents and teachers, Roger Rada laid it out as succinctly as he could.

“There are no good cuts here,” the interim superindendent said.

Behind him on a PowerPoint presentation, Rada’s words were written in large font for everyone to read: One bullet point read, “an agonizing process.”

Rada held two community meetings Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss next year’s budget for the Tigard-Tualatin School District, and the results aren’t encouraging.

The district is looking at a 4 percent cut to its budget, about $4 million next year, likely meaning layoffs of teachers and administrators, larger class sizes and fewer extracurricular activities for students.

To cut $4 million, Rada said he plans to cut the equivalent of 14 full-time employees from across the district’s 10 elementary schools.

“There is not a lot to cut at an elementary school,” Rada said. “That means it’s people that get cut. That means teachers.”

The layoffs continue at the middle school level, where 8.5 employees could be let go.

In both the elementary and middle schools, Rada said, class sizes are expected to rise to the high 20s or into the low 30s.

Outdoor School would be eliminated to help maintain afterschool programs in middle schools.

Average high school class sizes are expected to rise to nearly 36 students per classroom with the elimination of 13 employees between the district’s two high schools.

Fine art classes, music classes and physics classes are expected to see cuts as well, Rada said.

The cuts reach all the way to the top, Rada said, with the equivalent of 9.7 administrators and other district-level employees being cut.

“Every one of these is agonizing,” Rada reiterated, gesturing to a list of the proposed cuts. “You can put together a great case for any one of the things we’ve proposed to cut.”

Possible solutions?

School Board Chairwoman Maureen Wolf called Rada’s budget projections a “worst-case scenario” that could change if Salem follows through on a proposal to reform the state’s Public Employees Retirement System, or PERS.

If that reform comes through, the district could see its reductions sliced in half.

“I have to be optimistic, if I want to sleep at all, that we’re going to be at a 2 percent cut instead of 4 (percent),” Wolf said.

Cutting $2 million from the budget is no less serious, Rada said. But it would mean the district could see smaller class sizes and bring back programs cut from middle and high schools.

Another possibility the district has shied away from in the past is the idea of cutting school days to save money, Rada said.

In the past, former Superintendent Rob Saxton was against the idea of cutting days. Rada — who previously served as the superintendent of Oregon City School District, which eliminated 10 days from its calendar under his tenure — said that after years of cutting, Tigard-Tualatin was in a much more willing position to consider the idea of cutting days.

Fewer days would mean a paycut for school district employees, so any decision would require the approval of the district’s unions, which are scheduled to begin contract negotiations with the district later this year.

The district would have to cut 12 school days in order to make up for a $4 million budget shortfall, Rada said.

History of cuts

The proposed bugdet cuts are the latest in a long string of reductions the district has made in the past several years.

Last year, the district eliminated nearly two-dozen teaching jobs, nearly all through retirements and attrition.

Board member Jill Zurschmiede said that after so many years of cutting, the district has run out of ways to trim the fat.

“No single board member thinks these are good class sizes, and the idea that we have to add to them more is appalling,” she said. “If there are places we can cut that (aren’t) in the classroom, I am there. But we have been doing for six years in a row. To say that we are bone on bone is not an overstatement.”

Despite the cuts, the district has managed to keep its head just above water for years through reserve funds, but those funds dry up at the end of this year.

Debra Freedman, the parent of a second-grader at Byrom Elementary School in Tualatin, said laying off teachers and raising classroom sizes could have an adverse affect on students.

Freedman, who volunteers in her daughter’s classroom once a week, said she makes sure her quiet daughter gets the attention she needs. Her daughter’s classroom is already too crowded for each student to get specialized attention, she said.

“My child is the quiet one in class, and unless I was there, she probably wouldn’t get any attention,” Freedman said. “Her teacher doesn’t have time to deal with the quiet ones. I don’t think I am the typical parent, but my child is the typical child. Without my speaking up, she would be lost, and this is in the second grade. Where will she be in third, fourth or fifth grade?”

Rada’s proposed budget will need to meet the approval of Tigard-Tualatin’s Budget Committee.

The first Budget Committee meeting is set for Wednesday, May 8, at Twality Middle School, 14650 S.W. 97th Ave., in Tigard.

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