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Younger teachers bear brunt of Pasco school layoffs

Tony Egan, 26, laid off from his job as a special education teacher at Hudson High, doesn’t expect many newer teachers to be recalled. “Our scraps aren’t going to be there,” he said.

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

Tony Egan, 26, laid off from his job as a special education teacher at Hudson High, doesn’t expect many newer teachers to be recalled. “Our scraps aren’t going to be there,” he said.

HUDSON — Tony Egan knew he would be on the list of Pasco County teachers without a job well before layoffs were announced Thursday.

"When I came in, I signed the thing saying at the end of this semester my temporary contract will be over," said Egan, 26, who joined Hudson High as a special education teacher in December.

He always figured, though, that once the year ended, the district would have a place for him and the other young teachers who took positions after the first day of classes last August. Historically, Pasco schools have found jobs for most of the teachers on temporary contracts.

Then came the state Legislature, which cut per-student funding to its lowest level in years. The fourth straight year of shrinking revenue led the Pasco School Board to impose mass layoffs — about 470 people.

Even after terminating all teachers on temporary contracts and taking into account all known retirements, the district kept going. It next turned to teachers on annual contracts, reducing the staff in areas such as special education, music, art, media, technology and physical education.

"Essentially, what's going to happen, I believe, is (the more experienced teachers are) going to be able to go out … and get jobs and you're going to have all these new teachers with temporary contracts just sitting at the bottom of the funnel, and there's nothing left," said Egan, who's also an assistant football coach. "Our scraps aren't going to be there."

Assistant superintendent Ruth Reilly acknowledged that it will be more difficult, though not necessarily impossible, for those laid-off teachers to land other positions as the summer wears on.

Much of it depends on how the musical chairs shake out.

This week's layoffs were based largely on seniority. But some of the teachers who remain will be transferred to jobs at other schools or in other subjects they're qualified to teach. If they refuse the transfer, that job is open for an applicant like Egan.

Riley expects there to be fewer open positions than in past years as the district seeks to do more with less.

All the required services for special education, for instance, will be met — just with fewer staff, she said.

The same will take place in courses such as physical education, as well as services such as libraries and technology. The district plan calls for smaller schools to share teachers in those areas, rather than have enough for each school.

"They've not done that before," Reilly said. "It's very challenging because all of those services are critical, and when you reduce people, you are reducing services to students."

The transfers mean some schools stand to lose key people.

Gulf High, for instance, will lose its expected senior class adviser, as well as a past teacher of the year, principal Steve Knobl said.

Many times, it's the younger staff members who volunteer to run the clubs and take leadership roles, Knobl said. Having to replace them unexpectedly can hurt a school, he said.

In coming years, this process will change, as Florida lawmakers have rewritten the rules governing teacher layoffs. The system of last in, first out is banned beginning July 1.

Teacher evaluations and effectiveness ratings will be used to determine layoff status instead.

Egan worried that Pasco County, where he was born and raised, might lose young teachers like himself who bring vigor and vision to the schools.

"You hear these deals of Oregon and Texas and Kansas, and how they'll help you out with a house and give you $50,000 a year. Those are things that sound very good right now to someone who is 26 years old, like myself, or even 22," he said.

He lamented that state leaders have let Florida education reach this point.

"You look back all throughout the history of mankind, any kind of civilization. What two things have they valued most? Security and education. It sounds very basic and fundamental," Egan said. "But for some reason, the basics and the fundamentals have gone out the window for these people that are controlling this budget."

Egan hopes that once summer passes, no one will have taken his job.

"My job is not one that a lot of people will want to have. These kids are tough. I love 'em to death," he said. "Hopefully, somebody doesn't get my job, it gets passed up, and in a month or two it gets re-advertised and I've got a shot."

The recall process is scheduled to continue through the summer.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Younger teachers bear brunt of Pasco school layoffs 05/20/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 20, 2011 8:53pm]
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