For weeks, rumors have circulated about Walker County Schools cutting staff. The rumors ranged from thirty to sixty jobs lost, numbers that sound ridiculously high – which is why the tales weren’t repeated here. But since Friday school employees have begun sending in real names and numbers that indicate jobs are being redacted; the total number of teachers released could very well be in the upper range of what’s been rumored, if not higher.
According to school employees, LaFayette High School is losing between seven and sixteen teachers, with most saying twelve. LaFayette Middle (including Sixth Grade Academy) is losing five, with one additional teacher transferred to LHS. Chattanooga Valley Middle in Flintstone is losing at least four. Gilbert and Fairyland Elementary each lose one teacher, while Stone Creek Elementary looks to be dropping seven.
Hardest hit seems to be Ridgeland High School in Rossville; unverified numbers there say 25 teaching positions are being cut – nine of those from special education. That comes in between 50 and 59 teaching jobs eliminated, at just eight of the county system’s fourteen open schools. (Rock Spring Elementary staff report no cuts announced there – so far.)
The latest publicly available statistics for Walker County Schools are from the 2010-2011 school year. This year’s employment and attendance numbers are of course different, but not so different that we can’t use the earlier numbers for comparison. Based on last year’s school staffing, here’s the percentage of teachers being cut:
|SCHOOL||10-11 TEACHERS||RUMORED CUTS||CUT %|
|CHATT VALLEY EL||40||DNK||??|
|CHATT VALLEY MID||45||4||8.88%|
|CHEROKEE RIDGE EL||55||DNK||??|
|N. LAFAYETTE EL||40||DNK||??|
|ROCK SPRING EL||36||0||0.00%|
|STONE CREEK EL||34||7||20.59%|
All include teachers listed as part-time in 2010-2011
*Accounts for transfers to or from other schools
55 job cuts out of 712 teachers is a reduction of nearly 8% – and keep in mind the cuts listed are only from eight of the fourteen schools. When this is all said and done with all schools included, there could be a 10-20% cut in teaching jobs from the entire Walker County School System.
If a private employer cut a tenth of its workforce that would be newsworthy, but so far the district has not made any public statement. As of 4 PM today an e-mail from the Underground to school PR director Elaine Womack has not been answered. (A response from her or official statement from the school system will be added to this report if any are made.)
Most of the job cuts aren’t outright terminations. Quite a few teachers have been asked to resign, others retired or changed jobs and weren’t replaced. Most teachers who were pushed out, or not renewed for the next school year, have been given no reason for their job being cut – and those who challenge the decision or fight for answers will be marked as troublemakers and may have trouble finding jobs in other school districts.
Cuts don’t seem to be based on seniority; some of the ones being let go have been with Walker County Schools for quite some time. It also doesn’t appear to be directly tied to job performance. The only pattern seems to be that successful coaches are safe from release, and job reductions are hitting special education teachers and classroom assistants harder than other positions.
Every year the system drops a few teachers and hires a few others, but this many is pretty unusual. The reasons behind it may be budgetary; cutting back the number of teachers paid to avoid raising property taxes in a school board election year. During the current school year teachers are dealing with seven unpaid “furlough” days mandated by state budget cuts, and this could be a way to avoid that during the next school year.
Another way to avoid furlough days would be to cut the number, or cut the pay, of school administrators and “support staff” – but so far no specific reductions there have been reported except for the elimination of one position created in the last six months. That cut position is the “Assistant Superintendent” job invented for Melissa Mathis in January after her sudden retirement as Superintendent.
Mathis was being paid at least half of her former $140,000 per year salary to do.. something.. (maybe ??) and the board took a lot of flack from teachers and parents over the unnecessary cost. Considering all the furlough days and now massive job cuts, there was simply no way for the board to justify keeping Mathis around any longer. (Interim Superintendent Craig Davoulas will also be retiring once his replacement starts in July.)
Another theory about the job cuts: New superintendent Damon Raines, who takes over July 1st, may have requested the cuts to give himself a budget-friendly start, or to make room for teachers from the Catoosa school system where he currently works. The massive layoff can be blamed on two retiring officials (Mathis and Davoulas) so his hands are clean of it, even though it might have been his idea. This seems less likely but can’t be ruled out.
The reductions may be a response to changes in state education laws. For the last few years, Georgia’s school board has waived most class size restrictions, meaning fewer teachers end up teaching more kids at the same time. The waiver was recently extended through the 2012-2013 school year for budgetary reasons, even though “staff at the state Department of Education has been concerned about the potential impact on student achievement.”
Earlier this year Georgia also received an exemption from federal No Child Left Behind laws. NCLB is hated by teachers and school administrators because it ties school funding to standardized test results, and many feel like it forced schools to “teach the test” more than in previous years. (However, funding based on test scores has been around in some fashion for forty-plus years.)
But one good aspect of NCLB was the way it solidified federal rules about special education, putting a system of checks in place to make sure special ed. students were treated fairly. New state rules replacing NCLB don’t measure special education test results the same, removing teeth from the federal laws and giving school districts no reason to do anything extra for the kids who need help the most.
The massive number of cuts from Walker County’s special education teacher rolls supports that theory, and we’ve already heard from teachers concerned about plans to reduce the amount of one-on-one teaching time provided to disabled students.
“Special education” isn’t just stereotypical “mentally retarded” kids. The classification also includes students with learning disabilities like dyslexia or ADHD, and a few who are cognitively fine but have emotional issues that limit their ability to participate in the classroom. Walker County Schools has never done right by these students, making at best a minimal effort – and the number of job reductions among special education teachers show that the system may be preparing to completely throw special ed. kids under the proverbial bus.
Walker County Schools has never been a top-tier system, and there are definitely places where the schools could be doing better. But – regardless of reason – reducing the number of teachers, increasing class sizes, and gutting special education (while leaving administrative and coaching jobs relatively untouched) is not at all the direction we should be going in.
Hopefully this isn’t an early sign of where Superintendent Raines plans to take Walker County schools in the future. If it is, alternatives to public education begin looking better and better.
Are you a teacher or student impacted by job reductions at Walker County Schools? We’d love to hear from you; anonymity guaranteed. Drop us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org .