Several teachers in the Secaucus school district were notified last week they may not be rehired for the 2010-2011 school year, even though they say that they were under the impression that lay-offs would be avoided after the school budget passed in April.
Last week, the Board of Education and the local teachers’ union offered conflicting information about the number of teachers affected, but the number is in the single digits.
In a school district that rarely has teacher layoffs, the notifications surprised both parents and staff, who believed that the district would be able to find other ways to respond to Gov. Christopher Christie’s well publicized cuts in state aid to schools.
Last month, voters approved a $32.1 million school budget despite the fact that it will create a 2.5 percent tax increase. The increase is necessary, school officials said, to help offset the $2.6 million loss in state aid. The Board of Education was still required to spend its $800,000 surplus and make $2.6 million in spending cuts for next year’s budget.
“The primary grades will not get Spanish like they are this year.” – Robert Anderson
The layoffs are not definite. Under state law, school districts considering layoffs must notify teachers by May 15 that they may not be rehired for the next school year. Final staffing decisions are made over the summer, and sometimes teachers who receive pink slips in May are later rehired.
A spokesman for the Board of Education said last week, “Hopefully based on availability and qualifications, we’ll be in a position to rehire most of our employees who did not receive contracts.”
Those not rehired will be terminated on June 30.
Adding up the cuts
According to the spokesman for Schools Superintendent Cynthia Randina, who is currently on bereavement leave, “Four non-tenured teachers were notified that their contract would not be renewed for the 2010-2011 school year in compliance with [Department of Education] regulations, since we had not completed scheduling and had not solidified their positions. As of [May 19], we have returned staff to three of the four positions. The fourth position will not be filled due to a lack of student enrollment in that subject.”
The spokesman, Gene Manfra, did not specify in a written statement whether the three positions have been refilled by the same teachers who taught those subjects and received lay-off notices.
He did not specify what subject the fourth instructor – who will not be brought back next year – taught.
Manfra added that “several teacher assistants and a number of Chartwells [cafeteria] aides were advised that they might be non-renewed as well.” Chartwells provides school meals in Secaucus.
“These numbers,” Manfra stated, “will not be final until student and class schedules…are completed.”
Union leader responds
The Secaucus Education Association (SEA), which represents the school district’s 225 teachers and teacher aides, figures the number of lay-offs differently, however.
“We had five teachers notified. We had four aides notified,” said Robert Anderson, president of the SEA, last week. “When we passed the budget, the teachers’ union was under the impression there would be no cuts.”
Anderson said he believes two of the five affected teachers were subsequently told they will be in the classroom next year.
The layoffs will only further strain the relationship between Superintendent Randina and the SEA, which has often questioned her staffing and spending priorities. Anderson, for example, questioned why the layoffs are necessary when several tenured teachers have announced plans to retire after the current school year.
“And they are posting for the Director of Technology position again,” Anderson said. “That’s a position [Randina] said she was not going to fill. That’s a $138,000 position. We have a reading specialist who became a literacy director. That’s going from a 10-month job to a 12-month job. This person has not received a raise yet. But she will be reevaluated in July and needless to say, money is going to be spent there. Mrs. Randina posted for a human resource person, slated to start at $68,000. That will be a new position.”
He acknowledged that one of the administrative assistants in the Board of Education office is retiring later this year and her salary will be used to cover a portion of the human resources salary. But these positions are examples of the Board of Education’s misplaced priorities, Anderson said.
Manfra countered that the superintendent never promised that layoffs would be avoided. Quoting from a March 18 Superintendent Report – released before the April 20 school board election – the spokesman noted that Randina said, “I will make every possible effort to craft a 2010-2011 education budget that will do the least amount of harm to our students and to the core programs that make this one of the best districts in Hudson County.”
Student/teacher ratio still low
Manfra said the school board expects there to be “little or no change” in the student-to-teacher ratio next school year. In the 2008-2009 school year, the ratio was 15:1, according to Manfra. This school year, the ratio dropped to 14:1. He also said there wouldn’t be any major sacrifices made in the core curriculum.
But Anderson argued that having more administrators and fewer teachers in classrooms has led to staffing decisions that will shortchange students.
For example, he said that Randina “cut a world language teacher. To cover the world language classes she’s splitting the [remaining] elementary Spanish teachers between the elementary schools. By doing that, the primary grades will not get Spanish like they are this year. And grades 4, 5, and 6 will only get one Spanish class instead of two. That’s a cut in the program. I don’t care what you say.”
None of the affected teachers was willing to be interviewed. One teacher has retained an attorney.
The Board of Education meets on Thursday, May 27 at 7 p.m. at Huber Street School.
“My members are frustrated,” Anderson said. “I expect a lot of my members to be there.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.