Oak Lawn’s public elementary school districts are reducing their teaching staffs for next year but may hire back some teachers depending on funding, enrollment and certifications in certain subject areas.
The most drastic layoffs are in Ridgeland Dist. 122, which plans to release 60 teachers, including non-tenured and part-time teachers who provide math and reading instruction for larger classrooms.
Oak Lawn-Hometown Dist. 123 also plans to release six full-time teachers, with the possibility of re-hiring three of them.
D122 "Blanket" Releases Routine
D122 Superintendent Tom Smyth called the district-wide layoffs routine. The district has routinely released teachers over the past three years, mostly from grant-dependent programs.
Many of the teachers will be able to re-apply for their positions in April or May. Others will be able to re-apply for their jobs in August, when the district gets a better sense of enrollment for the 2011-12 school year.
“We’ve done it other years,” Smyth said of the layoffs. “We’ve had a lot of retirements in the last three years, but we would still do the blanket releases.”
Included in the D122 staff reductions are eight preschool teachers. The district currently receives two state grants at a combined total of $460,030 for its preschool program. The Illinois State Board of Education, however, plans to roll both early childhood grants into one program and change to competitive grant process next year, leaving the preschool program’s future in question.
“If we get the grant we can hire back preschool teachers,” Smyth said. “Unfortunately, because the state decided to make it a competitive grant, there will be winners and losers. The way I look at it, the pre-school children will be the losers. If we write the grant and get it, our preschool kids will be winners; another school district writes the grant and doesn’t get it, their students will be the losers.”
D122 is also releasing its Title 1 remedial reading teachers who are funded by U.S. Department of Education grants. Federal money is distributed to states, which is allocated to the state’s public school districts according to 10-year census figures. Congress has not yet approved the Title 1 budget.
Smyth said there are still too many unknowns to determine how many of the 60 teachers will be hired back. Enrollment has gone down across the district, but has increased at certain schools, including Lieb Elementary and Simmons Middle School.
D122 also has a high student mobility rate of 40 percent, where students are moving in and out of the district every few months. Eighty percent of the district’s 200 preschool students do not speak English, the predominant native language being Arabic.
“Basically, we’re trying to meet the needs of those students where no English is being spoken at home,” Smyth said.
Smyth added that it was hard to predict enrollment figures for the next school year until August.
“We need to look at enrollment figures,” he said. “Sometimes we have huge fluctuations of students in a certain grade and we have to hire a teacher to fill in a spot.”
The superintendent said the number of teacher layoffs was high because it's the first year that the district has released non-tenured teachers. Teachers in their first, second or third year of working for the district can be released without reason or explanation. D122 teachers become tenured during their fifth year of teaching in the district and are generally the first protected from layoffs.
Smyth said the teacher layoffs would not affect class size, which averages around 21.
“That’s an adamant no,” Smyth said. “If preschool isn’t funded, we won’t have a preschool. It’s an unfortunate thing, but that’s what it is. We’re going to make every effort to get the grant and fund preschool and try to bring as many teachers back as we can.”
The state has just paid $74,000 owed to Dist. 122 for the preschool program covering the months of August and September; still owed is $249,000 for October through March.
“This is an important program to Dist. 122,” said Assistant Superintendent Eric Trimberger, D122’s business manager. “Kids would walk into kindergarten one to two years behind if this program were to go away.”
Dist. 123 Lays Off Six Teachers
In Dist. 123, six teachers are being released in an effort to chip away at the district’s $2.2 million budget deficit. Three of the teachers are reallocated to other positions depending on their certifications and qualifications to teach certain subjects.
“We’re going to use them in a different area,” D123 Superintendent Art Fessler said. “I want to add more support for math instruction … those people may not be certified to do that job, but those who do will remain on staff.”
Fessler said district officials are reviewing district teachers’ certifications and tweaking programs for next year.
Three full-time teachers are also being released because of the district’s declining student enrollment, which is down by 75 students compared to this same period last year, including a kindergarten and a special education teacher.
The proposed staff cuts should save Dist. 123 about $850,000.
Special education staff is being reduced because a large number of eighth graders at Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School requiring special education services will be entering high school next year, Fessler said.