Teachers give students their all despite being layoffs
April 8, 2003
Second-year high school teacher Melissa Berry wasn’t surprised to get her second layoff notice in a year from Lake Tahoe Unified School District.
Her students know she may be gone next fall, but it wasn’t evident in her classroom, when Berry went over memory fundamentals in her psychology class.
Berry is one of 27 teachers in the district and nearly 10,000 statewide who were given dismissal notices March 15. Layoffs at LTUSD are a result of $2.7 million in cuts for next year because of declining enrollment, a state budget crisis and increased operational costs.
Last year, Berry kept her job. This year, the dismissal notice listed both her classes — psychology and yearbook — as headed for the chopping block. She plans to fight for her yearbook job, which she says requires special training, before an administrative law judge this month.
“You don’t just take over the production of a book, if you don’t know what you’re doing,” Berry said.
Five-year South Tahoe Middle School teacher Pat Riley also received a notice.
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“I don’t really know what we’ll do,” he said. “We feel like we’re being forced out so I don’t know. Part of the conversation is, where to go now.”
A major part of the financial problem for LTUSD is loss of enrollment. Hundreds of students have left the district over the past five years, equating to hundreds of thousands of lost dollars.
By cutting faculty and other areas, the district may be compounding the issue when former employees leave to look for work.
Berry and Riley want to continue teaching in South Lake Tahoe. A chance remains that this year mimics last, when half of the 26 teachers given notices returned after retirements, leaves of absence and increased enrollment at the high school.
The number of retirements this year will be revealed this week when some teachers with seniority may decide to take a package that includes $5,000 a year for five years for teachers age 55 and older. That figure is the difference between keeping an experienced teacher and hiring a new one. A $10,000 one-time retirement incentive is available for the top 29 teachers on the seniority list.
Superintendent Diane Scheerhorn expressed hope that not all teachers given notices will actually be dismissed. Teachers can be recalled even after the start of next school year, if enrollment increases or other teachers take leaves of absence.
“It’s possible to bring everyone back,” Scheerhorn said. “Do we anticipate that? No.”
LTUSD has been forced to make cutbacks the past few years. Next year, a school may possibly close in 2005.