San Jose school district avoids laying off nearly 40 teachers and staff
Evergreen School District is reversing a decision to lay off 38 teachers and staff. Photo courtesy of Evergreen School District.

    Mere weeks after nearly 40 San Jose teachers and staff were given pink slips, administrators reversed the decision in a rare turn of events. Early retirement and state and federal funding came to the rescue.

    A total of 38 Evergreen School District teachers and tenured staff received notices in early March saying they wouldn’t be needed for the 2021-22 school year, sparking panic and concern from parents and union leaders. District leaders at the time primarily blamed declining enrollment for the cuts.

    But school officials learned Thursday teachers jobs would be saved because of retirements, resignations and state and federal funding.

    “I’m very happy for our teachers and students,” said Suzanne Lima, the Evergreen Teachers Association union president who had lobbied the school board to save the jobs. “I’m relieved it isn’t going to drag on, and the teachers who had been working so hard this year under difficult circumstances are going to get to go to spring break without worrying if they’ll have a job next year.”

    Superintendent Emy Flores said the district is “happy to announce that Evergreen School District plans on rescinding all layoff notices pending board approval.”

    Lima said she’s sorry teachers had to face the roller coaster of losing their jobs, then getting them back.

    On March 1, the district’s school board voted unanimously to move forward with the layoffs in order to reduce spending amid a budget shortfall.

    Flores said when the board made its layoff decision, it didn’t know how much funding to expect from the state and federal governments. The board also had a legal obligation to notify teachers by March 15 if there wasn’t a position available for them next year.

    This, coupled with steeply declining enrollment, forced the school board’s hand, Flores said.

    “Those notices had to come out due to the deadline and the fact that we are in steep declining enrollment,” Flores said.

    Lima said the district should have issued early retirement offers before deciding to send layoff notices. She had asked the district for months to move forward with its early retirement incentive for teachers.

    Teacher Annie Williams Conrad, whose children attend elementary school in the district, agreed.

    “Had retirement notices been requested before the letters went out, it would have saved at least 14 of those pink slipped teachers a lot of heartache, stress, and undue anxiety,” she said.

    Flores said years of declining enrollment have hurt the district and it is projected to lose another 500 to 600 students in the next school year. The school district has lost 735 students since 2019, she said.

    Conrad said the announcement of the layoff was “extremely surprising” after students suffered learning loss from a year of distance learning. She said without smaller class sizes, students who need more one-on-one help will likely not get the support they need.

    Lima said the district risked losing well-trained staff.

    “The real cost of sending out all of these notices…is to our students,” Lima said. “They are going to be the ones who will be affected if we lose these amazing, dedicated teachers to other districts.”

    According to financials presented at the March 1 meeting, the district projected an ending balance of more than $29 million for the 2020-2021 school year, $27 million the following school year and $21 million for the 2022-2023 school year. However, the 2020-2021 budget included the release of 15 teachers and did not include $9 million from AB 86, the state’s reopening grant or $9 million from the federal American Rescue Plan.

    The district projected a $12 million shortfall before receiving state and federal funding. It cut costs by closing two schools last year and planned to close one next year. It also made 25% budget cuts across all district departments along with staff furlough days.

    Some of the layoffs affected teachers hired for the current school year when combination classes were eliminated during distance learning. Combination classes are when two grades are combined in one classroom.

    “You don’t want to be overstaffed,” Lima said, “but…if we didn’t do combination classes for another year, we’d need more teachers. I wish they would have had this conversation before they sent notices out.”

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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