Worst-case scenario: 80-plus teachers out of jobs

Maya Price has gotten The Letter several times during the four years she’s been a “temporary” English teacher at Chico High School. But this time she’s worried that the threatened layoffs are for real.

“I can’t even imagine applying anywhere else, let alone working anywhere else,” she said. “I love what I do. I get to do what I enjoy every day.”

Dozens of Chico teachers aren’t looking forward to checking their mail in the coming weeks. The Chico Unified School District is gearing up to notify at least 86 teachers, many of whom have been in classrooms here for several years, that their services are no longer needed. That will translate into much larger class sizes as the district crams courses together to make up for lost teachers.

On the agenda for the Feb. 20 meeting of the CUSD Board of Trustees, which occurred after the News & Review’s press time, was the “non-reelection” of 59 temporary teachers, plus a “reduction in work force” totaling 30.6 teaching and administrative positions.

By law, the district has to notify employees by March 15 that their positions are being eliminated. The reduction-in-work-force element alone would include 26.8 teaching positions (some work part-time), two elementary principals, eight-tenths of an assistant-principal position and a director at the district office. The list also includes the sole teaching position for the Butte College Connection program, through which high school students take college courses.

Most of those affected are high school teachers, which is where the larger class sizes and reduced course offerings would fall, acknowledged Superintendent Scott Brown.

He said there’s a chance some employees may get to stay after all, if enough people retire or stay on leave, but if he were in those teachers’ situation, he’d be looking for another job. Part of the reason for the uncertainty is the pending state budget. “It’s too early to tell,” Brown said. “We need to reduce our expenses by $1.8 million.

“The horrible downside of this for school districts is there are always good people who can be snapped up by a neighboring school district,” Brown said.

On the same agenda was the reappointment of 33 teachers from temporary to probationary status, a big step toward permanency. They were the lucky ones; 59 of their temporary peers will get the notice saying they’re no longer needed. Brown said it was likely the schools’ principals who made the ultimate decision on whom to keep.

Dan Sours, president of the Chico Unified Teachers Association, said the numbers are “much bigger than I ever thought … tenfold more than ever.”

It’s also more layoffs than necessary, especially when enrollment is no longer declining, Sours said. A math teacher, he did the math on the teacher layoffs and calculated that if their average wage is $50,000, the district will save $3.4 million—far more than it needs to cut. He’s most concerned about the “horrendously huge” class sizes high school students would face.

Price, the English teacher, is putting the layoff notices out of her mind and focusing on her classes, and advising the school newspaper.

"It’s hard to me, when my students come to me and ask what I’m going to be teaching next year, and I can’t even tell them if I’m going to be here next year," she said. "Every year something works out. But this year they’re saying the numbers don’t lie … but I don’t see what they can do with all those kids."