KUSD hands pink slips to 18

17 teachers, 1 principal laid off with budget cuts looming

KINGMAN - With only three of its five members present, the Kingman Unified School District's Governing Board agreed Tuesday night to lay off 17 district teachers and one principal in anticipation of massive budget shortfalls for the coming fiscal year.

The layoffs come in preparation for a "worst case" scenario should next month's 1-cent sales tax ballot initiative fail to win voter approval. The temporary sales tax has been proposed by Gov. Jan Brewer as a means to avoid making significant cuts to statewide education funding in light of the state's $1.5 billion budget deficit.

If the initiative fails, however, KUSD will have a roughly $5.1 million budget shortfall to cover, compared to $2.4 million if the initiative passes and brings in the revenues the state expects - hardly a guarantee. But since district contract renewals must be mailed out no later than today, the board had little choice but to hedge its bets and assume the worst.

"If we don't meet the April deadline, then we have to issue contracts to every one of our employees and hope we have enough people retire that we can accomplish the downsizing with just retirees," said District Finance Manager Wanda Hubbard. But she noted that while the district was able to call back most of the 50-plus employees it laid off last year, that was thanks to a combination of retirements, resignations and new positions funded through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

While the district typically sees a turnover of anywhere from 40 to 60 employees each school year, Hubbard said those numbers alone did not ensure the district could rely solely on retirements to meet its required staffing cuts, since a second-grade teacher would not have the same skills or certification required to take over for a retiring high school math teacher.

"Numbers don't necessarily reflect what a person's qualified to teach," Hubbard said.

The approved reductions in force will eliminate two teachers at Black Mountain Elementary, three at Cerbat Elementary, two at Hualapai Elementary, one at La Senita Elementary, one at Manzanita Elementary, two at Kingman Middle School, two at White Cliffs Middle School, one at Mt. Tipton School and three at Kingman High School. Palo Christi Elementary will be spared any teacher cuts, but Principal Stephen Hite will be laid off and replaced with the district's transportation and maintenance administrator and former Palo Christi principal, Gary Blanton.

District Superintendent Roger Jacks said the job shift would accomplish the district's goal of eliminating one administrative position, with Blanton's duties to be split between Hubbard, Assistant Superintendent Wanda Oden and Jacks himself.

Several board members were concerned about the list of names that had been presented to them. Dr. Charles Lucero was particularly disturbed that he had not had the chance to discuss the proposed layoffs with each of the employees' principals to determine their exact reasoning for choosing certain teachers over others.

"What criteria were used when the teachers were selected?" he asked. "Is it documented? Was it an emotional decision for the principal? What was it based on?"

Jacks said the lay-offs were based on the district's official Reduction in Force policy, which considers each teacher's overall qualification and certification including any special training; teaching experience and ability; and past contributions to the district's education programs. Due to new legislation recently passed by the state, Jacks noted that tenure and seniority can no longer be considered for retaining or laying off individual teachers.

"In many cases, it's a very difficult situation because they have a very solid teaching staff at their school and it's not an easy process," Jacks said. "But we asked principals to go through that process, and then out of that, present their names to the district office they felt best fit the criteria we had to utilize."

Jacks added that both he and Oden pulled the personnel records and evaluations of each listed teacher, and ended up disagreeing with two selections, which were sent back to their respective principals for reconsideration. At the same time, however, he conceded that he had not asked for any written documentation as to each principal's reasoning behind their selections.

Lucero said the board has tried to be proactive on holding principals accountable for their teacher evaluations, and he was concerned that some of the teachers on the list may have had average or above-average evaluations, which he felt should not merit dismissal. Board member Bill Goodale agreed with Lucero, adding that he felt uncomfortable laying people off without a proper explanation behind their evaluations.

"This is a big decision that's affecting people's lives, and board members have certain responsibilities," Lucero said. "And this is one of our biggest responsibilities."

But Jacks contended that the district used the same process last year when it laid off 53 teachers. All the same, he said he would begin providing more documentation in the event of future reductions in force.

"There are things we can do to make board members feel more comfortable on it," he said. "But I have to say, with the process we used this year and last year, I do have confidence in the principals that are out there, that they are making good decisions with our employees."

Board President Pat Carlin admitted that it had been the board's decision to pursue the reduction in force to begin with, though he pointed out the only other realistic alternative would have been an across-the-board pay cut for all district employees, which the board wanted to avoid. All the same, Lucero said future lay-offs should require a more in-depth discussion and a heavier hand from the district's administrators.

With that, Lucero made the motion to approve the layoffs, with Goodale seconding. Carlin joined his colleagues, with the motion passing 3-0.