The first shoe dropped last week, when administrators in the state-controlled Newark school district alerted managers and staff that 155 civil-service positions would be eliminated next year to help close a $39 million revenue gap.
Now teachers and others in Newark's schools are anxiously waiting for the next news, as they wait to learn how their classroom jobs might be affected by proposed spending cuts.
After the administration announced the 155 civil service cuts last Thursday, affecting clerks and other support staff, questions remained regarding how many non-civil service positions -- such as teacher jobs -- will be affected, as school principals have each been asked to cut their budgets by varying amounts.
The spending cuts will be in every school, and some union and community leaders said they have been told the reductions amount to roughly 4 percent for each school – as much as $750,000 or $800,000 for the larger high schools.
A spokeswoman for schools Superintendent Cami Anderson said those budgets are still being developed and decisions on further job reductions are not due until the end of the month.
But Anderson had previously said she needed a three-year “reduction in force,” amounting to as many as 1,000 teacher jobs, to offset lower enrollment that’s mostly due to the growth of charter schools in the city.
How those layoffs will take place is also somewhat in flux, as the district has sought approval from the Christie administration for an “equivalency waiver” that would allow the district to circumvent the state’s seniority rule of “last in, first out,” or LIFO.
Anderson has proposed that seniority be taken into consideration in layoffs, but only after first weighing a teacher’s performance rating.
However, state Education Commissioner David Hespe said several times recently that little has changed in the administration’s reluctance to grant the waiver, which was first requested last year.
Yesterday, Hespe again indicated that state law, which says seniority must be the sole factor in laying off tenured staff, remains a clear roadblock, although he added his office is still discussing the matter with Anderson’s staff.
“There are still technical and legal issues that need to be resolved,” he said.The uncertainty has left the district, along with its educators and their unions, in a state of turmoil as the end of the school year approaches.
The Newark Teachers Union is going through an election of its first new president in 20 years, and all three candidates for the top post said at last night’s schools advisory board meeting that it has been a difficult time for members.
“I’ve had a conversation with administrators, and they have said they were told it would be a minimum of one and a maximum of three teachers per building,” said Michael Dixon, secretary-treasurer of the union and a teacher at Ivy Hill School, who is running to succeed longtime NTU president Joseph DelGrosso.
”That’s a high of 200 and low of 70,” he said. “But the teachers really haven’t been told. We haven’t really gotten anything yet.”
Branden Rippey, a teacher at Science Park High School who is also a candidate for president, said he’s heard of schools that are transferring older teachers to try to save a greater number of younger teachers’ jobs.
“It’s a gigantic shell-game,” he said. “Principals are put in a bad situation.”
And John Abeigon, the NTU’s programs director and front-runner in the election, said he was told yesterday of one principal who has cutting back spending on textbooks and other supplies to save a teaching position.
“School-based (budgets) have us waiting for principals to decide between toilet paper and staff,” he said.