Local teachers hit hard by budget cuts, staff reductions

The Dayton Daily News found area schools have eliminated hundreds of teaching positions.

A Daily News analysis of 24 area school districts shows they plan to offset tens of millions of dollars in state funding losses with deep personnel cuts — most of them falling on classroom and support staff directly related to student instruction. Only about 6 percent of the cuts are being directed in the area of administration.

Of the 948 positions eliminated through layoffs and attrition from 2010 to 2012, 580 involved teaching positions and 58 were administrative posts. The rest are support staff, including teacher aides.

Ohio already ranks low nationally on classroom spending and has high administrative costs, according to federal data. Gov. John Kasich is pushing for districts to devote more of their budgets to the classroom, but many of the recent cuts show that will be difficult.

“There are a number of other ways for districts to save money other than firing teachers,” Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said. “Among other things, they can cut their administrative costs, make health care benefits more in line with those in the private sector, and share services with other districts.”

Kasich’s budget attempts to give districts tools to better manage staff reductions, but the key provision, Senate Bill 5, which limits collective bargaining rights, is being challenged by opponents, and a referendum seems headed for the November ballot.

“The governor’s budget proposes giving local schools these types of tools so layoffs aren’t the only option available to them,” Nichols said. “Ironically, some schools are timid to embrace these cost-saving tools because they are fearful of the backlash from the teachers unions, so they instead simply fire their teachers.”

But Dayton Public Schools Treasurer Stan Lucas said there are only so many administrators that can be lost under state and federal regulations. “That is somewhat unrealistic in that you have to recognize 80 percent of the budget is personnel,” he said.

Dayton this spring eliminated 16 administrative positions and 101 classroom teachers. Overall, the district has roughly 110 administrators and 1,000 teachers, officials said.

The education cuts are so widespread locally the Montgomery County Job and Family Services has rolled out a “rapid response plan” to assist laid-off employees.

The Daily News analysis shows districts where voters have turned down recent tax levy requests have been the hardest hit.

Trotwood-Madison City Schools — which has seen five straight levy defeats — has cut nearly a quarter of its staff, the Daily News analysis shows. Centerville and Northmont have begun to reduce staff involved in popular, award-winning programs like libraries and music.

The targets of the cuts are striking a nerve with some parents, prompting them to speak out as the cuts touch programs once considered hands-off in order to preserve instruction in subject areas reflected on the state report cards.

“It is coming as a tremendous shock to everyone and they’re very disturbed by it,” said Linda Kididis, Northmont Band Boosters president. “There are some grave concerns about what the future of the music program will be like.”

Northmont is known nationally for its marching band, but much of the elementary music programs that feed students into the high school band are being reduced or eliminated after six music teacher positions were cut. Children will now have music half the year and art the other half.

Fifth-graders will no longer be able to participate in band and orchestra. Sixth-graders will be sent to the high school or middle school to practice before their school day starts.

Superintendent Sarah Zatik called it “heartbreaking” because she and other officials know the value of those programs. But the district, she said, is trying to protect its “excellent with distinction” rating. Principals feared that making class sizes too large by cutting other teaching positions would have an adverse impact on test scores.

“Do you harm the arts programs that are a tremendous benefit to the development of our youth today or do you risk having high class sizes in which your academic rating is jeopardized?” she said. “Unfortunately, that’s how we are judged, by test scores. The arts don’t play a role in that.”

Impact in the classroom

Experts warn that no matter how careful school administrators are with the budget knife, cuts this deep will inevitably have adverse impacts on student achievement.

“I think our staff is going to feel the impact of not having as many hands in the classroom,” said William Kirby, superintendent of Huber Heights City Schools, where about 20 teaching and 16 teacher aide positions have been cut for the next school year.

Many of those being laid off at school districts in the region are new teachers with three or fewer years with a district, in large part due to collective bargaining agreements that protect seniority. Thirteen of the teachers let go from Huber Heights were in their first year with the district.

In some cases, the cuts are landing in places that force district officials to put people into positions for which they do not have specific experience.

“I would like language that gave us more freedom and the ability to match teaching background with the job,” Kirby said.

That reshuffling is occurring in many districts, including Dayton Public, which eliminated 296 positions this spring on top of more than 90 positions last year. This spring’s cuts resulted in 179 layoffs, while the other cuts were absorbed through attrition including retirements and resignations.

David Romick, president of the Dayton Education Association teachers union, said veteran educators bring experience and knowledge to the classroom that provides an invaluable benefit to students. At the same time, he said, the loss of young teachers will hurt because “some of the new blood in the classroom at this time is getting cut.”

The experience of two local educators shows the scope of the cuts’ impact.

This fall, Beverly Horwitz, who has worked for Dayton Public for more than 25 years, will return to the classroom for the first time in 10 years. Horwitz has spent the past decade working in the district’s central office as part of a four-person team focused on improving parental involvement. All four of their positions were abolished as part of $9 million in budget cuts.

Horwitz, 65, is excited to be back in a preschool classroom of 4-year-olds, but she said it pains her to see “so many young qualified people looking for jobs.”

“I’m thrilled to have a job because so many don’t,” she said.

One of those looking for work is Melinda Nyhan, 40, of Oakwood. Nyhan received a pink slip as a teacher’s aide in a special needs classroom at Wright Brothers PreK-8 School two weeks ago.

On Thursday, she attended a session at the Montgomery County Educational Service Center to show laid-off school employees how to apply for unemployment and polish their resumes.

Nyhan has a master’s degree in elementary education from Wright State University’s Professional Educator Program, which helps those with business and other backgrounds transition into teaching careers. She thinks it’s unfair that the decision of who gets cut and who keeps their job is based solely on seniority — not performance.

“That’s a sad reality of it,” Nyhan said. “A lot of people are getting to keep jobs they really shouldn’t.”

The single mother of two is also looking outside her field for a job because she knows how tough the job market is for teachers.

When she hand delivered her resume for a first-grade teacher opening at Kettering, the principal told her he had received 600 applicants.

She fears that with a master’s degree, she doesn’t have a chance as districts hire younger employees for less.

“It’s beyond frustrating,” she said.

Retirements play a role

Not every district is eliminating positions to save money. Springboro Community Schools offered retirement incentives to 30 staffers, including 15 experienced teachers, a move Superintendent Gene Lolli expects will save the district $3 million over the coming years. Springboro voters have turned down five requests for new operating money, but Lolli believes the district will not need to request new funds if voters OK the renewal of an existing tax in 2013.

As a result of the retirements, Springboro is one of the few Miami Valley districts hiring teachers this summer. To ensure savings, the district will focus on hiring teachers with bachelor’s degrees and no previous experience.

Lolli admits losing 15 veteran teachers raises some concerns, but because of the current economic conditions the district received 1,200 applications for the 15 positions.

“We have interviewed what I believe is the cream of the crop,” Lolli said. “Even though we lost the experience, these young people won’t miss a beat. We want to do everything possible not to compromise academic programs.”

Cuts nationwide

Miami Valley school districts are not alone. Education cuts of some magnitude are the reality in nearly every state.

“It is happening all across the country with few exceptions,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, which represents 130,000 teachers in Ohio. “It will have a huge impact on kids.”

The Ohio Education Association has predicted Ohio will lose 10,860 education jobs this budget cycle and the American Association of School Administrators estimates 227,000 education jobs will be lost across the country.

OEA officials say the state is on pace to top the loss of more than 9,000 classroom teachers over a two-year period during the 2004-05 budget cycle.

“I don’t remember a time in my career when it was this widespread,” Van Roekel said. “This isn’t a one-time impact. It affects students long-term. You are only in first grade once. The amount kids can learn in those years is absolutely incredible.”

Experts like Van Roekel fear the loss of funding will have serious implications for student achievement. The Daily News examination shows class sizes will be larger, fewer teachers will be available for students who need extra help and subjects not measured on the state report card, like art and music, will be drastically cut back.

“As we talk about the loss of adults in these school buildings, Van Roekel said, “those students are still coming. They are still coming with all the same needs, desires and dreams.”

The cuts will mean less help for struggling students and put at risk those with the greatest potential to be left behind, according to OEA researcher Andy Jewell.

“You don’t rightsize public education just to balance your budget and not have to deal with the consequences,” he said.

Frank DePalma, superintendent of the Miami Valley Educational Service Center, which sells support services to districts, said schools have eliminated much of the help they used to rely on, forcing his organization to cut 35 professional positions.

“Districts don’t have the money right now for discretionary spending,” DePalma said. While services for special needs students with federally mandated “individual education plans” must be funded, services for struggling students are not mandatory in many cases.

“At some point it always has an impact on the classroom,” DePalma said.

That’s something Dayton Public school board member Joe Lacey fears. He voted against the recent staffing cuts because he is concerned about the impact the losses will have class sizes, learning and student achievement. He’s worried it could cause the district, now in academic watch, to slip at a time when its students are starting to make incremental gains.

Preliminary results show district 10th-graders made gains in all five subject areas tested in the Ohio Graduation Tests. “I don’t want to see that momentum fall to the problems of losing 10 percent of your teachers,” he said.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2094 or mkissell@DaytonDaily News.com.