Amanda Vail was named one of the state’s outstanding first-year teachers last school year.
Now, Vail and 188 other Lawrence teachers who haven’t yet earned tenure are waiting to learn the fallout from the district’s budget cuts, which could affect where they teach or whether they even have jobs in the district.
“Morale is definitely down, just with so many things up in the air,” said Vail, a second-grade teacher at Prairie Park School.
District leaders this week started evaluating the effects of the $4.6 million in cuts board members made Tuesday night. The decision to increase the student-teacher ratio by one student will cut 21 teaching jobs, and gutting the learning coach program means some of the district’s more experienced teachers will return to the classroom.
As of last week, 30 Lawrence teachers filed paperwork to retire or resign at the end of the year, and district leaders have said attrition will help absorb some of the job cuts, but not all of them.
“Hopefully we won’t have to lay off very many based on the level of retirements that we have, but that’s something that we anticipate that we’ll need to do,” said David Cunningham, the district’s division director of human resources for certified staff.
Pieces of a puzzle
Cunningham, his staff members and school principals are now evaluating several things.
The one-student increase to the ratio means the district needs 21 fewer teachers for next year, but each class won’t get one more student. It will affect some schools more than others based on enrollment, and it depends more on the size of each grade level in each school. For example, a school projected to have three second-grade classes might only have two classes.
Other programs and positions that were cut will have a ripple effect across the district. If learning coaches, for example, have attained tenure, they would return to the classroom and likely bump a teacher who hasn’t been with the district long enough. Learning coaches are experienced teachers who mentor novice teachers.
There are 13 learning coaches, although some don’t have tenure in the district. Their positions next year are not guaranteed.
Basically, a teacher earns tenure once they start their fourth consecutive year with the district. Teachers who have attained tenure in another district can earn it in Lawrence at the start of their third year.
Karen Wycoff, New York School’s library media specialist, earned tenure as a teacher and librarian in De Soto, and she has already attained tenure in Lawrence. Due to the district’s library staff cuts, she might return to the classroom next year in Lawrence.
“I’m still up in the air, but I do have a job, so I’m thankful for that,” she said.
The district has about 950 certified staff members — mostly teachers but this includes other positions like counselors and librarians.
The process is complex because the number of retirees and nontenured teachers varies among the schools.
Prairie Park has three teachers who don’t have tenure, including Vail, and no teachers there are expected to retire. Principal David Williams said the school in southeastern Lawrence is projected to lose two teaching positions due to the ratio increase, and he doesn’t yet know if a teacher, like a former learning coach, will gain a position in the building.
“It completely changes the makeup of your building, and that’s a difficult part,” said Williams. He said job losses would also be difficult, and he wouldn’t want to see anyone lose a job but knows it’s likely.
Retirements and resignations will create openings at other schools. At Lawrence High School, Principal Matt Brungardt said as of now five classroom teachers will depart. How they will be replaced depends on the factors up in the air across the district.
“There’s a number of different scenarios,” Brungardt said. “It’s like putting a puzzle together, and we have to figure out how this all works.”
As some Lawrence teachers face the possibility of job losses, the state’s budget crisis has compounded the problem for the profession because nearly all districts are going through cuts right now.
Tiffany Wambsganss, who will graduate from Kansas University in May, is a student-teacher in Vail’s second-grade classroom right now. She said districts in the area aren’t hiring, and others across the state have told prospective employees they might not get a call to come teach there until August, just before school starts.
She’s also worried as more experienced teachers get laid off.
“They would get hired before a beginning teacher,” Wambsganss said.
She faces the possibility of working as a substitute teacher until the field opens up.
“This year it’s more challenging because other districts are experiencing the same budgetary challenges,” Cunningham said. “There would be fewer jobs and more people looking for jobs, so it will be difficult.”
The Lawrence Education Association, which represents certified staff, and the district plan to offer workshops soon on résumé writing and other employment tips for staff members who face job losses.
Valerie Johnson-Powell, the LEA’s president, said the programs and support cuts the district has made means that teachers and school staff members will have to take on larger workloads. She’s also worried about the lasting effects of the state’s budget crisis, especially for younger teachers.
“We know there’s a teacher shortage. I believe this is going to make it an even larger shortage,” Johnson-Powell said.
Vail left the banking profession to become a teacher. As she waits to find out what next year will look for her, she says the budget cuts will put more pressure on teachers.
“It really affects the quality of the education,” Vail said. “The biggest challenge is to try to swallow that and feel like you’re still doing a good job.”