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Hart teachers living in the shadow of layoffs

Posted: February 8, 2009 12:51 a.m.
Updated: February 8, 2009 4:59 a.m.

English teacher Lindsey Villanueva will find out in May if she can return to teach this fall at Bowman High School. Along with numerous other second-year probationary teachers, she faces the possibility of losing her job.

 
Former Bowman High School student Lindsey Villanueva, now a Bowman teacher, looks forward to watching her students turn their lives around and graduate from the Hart district's only continuation high school.

"I felt accepted and that people believed in me," said Villanueva, 31. "We still offer that to our kids."

A projected $42 billion state budget shortfall could change Villanueva's career plans because she is a second-year probationary teacher.

More than 100 temporary and probationary teachers in the William S. Hart Union High School district will receive preliminary layoff notices by March 15, said Rochelle Neal, assistant superintendent of human resources and student services.

Final layoff notices will arrive at the beginning of May, she said.

"If there isn't a place for me in education, I don't know where my place is," Villanueva said.

She keeps the option of returning to waiting tables, a job she held during her year as a student at Bowman, but isn't sure that she would be able to get a job at a restaurant.

"If I lost my job, I don't know what it would mean for our family," she said, referring to her husband and 3-year-old daughter.

Villanueva began attending Bowman High in 1994 at age 17 as a way to catch up on credits after splitting her time growing up in Los Angeles and Kern counties.

"I was a very focused student and was able to work at a much faster pace. I really took things seriously," she said.

She credits the school's environment.

"I was very much alone. Bowman was a family for me. I enjoyed it here," she said.

A year after enrolling, Villanueva graduated from Bowman.

She took College of the Canyons classes sporadically, but soon came to terms with the need for her education.

"If I didn't take school seriously, I would never finish," she said.

She enrolled at California State University, Northridge and graduated in 2005 with her sights on landing a teaching job.

Villanueva began substitute teaching for the Hart district two years ago and found a spot as English teacher after a long-term teaching position opened.

Villanueva now finds herself in a situation similar to dozens of other teachers.

"All of the districts in the Santa Clarita Valley have been very lucky up until now," said Leslie Littman, president of the Hart Teachers Association. "We haven't ever had to do this process now.

"When you're talking about education cuts ... you have to plan for any and all options. This happens to be one of those options."

If the layoffs happen, Littman anticipates a "huge" impact on student education.

"What you're talking about is increased class size, which means less individualized instruction," she said.

Hart district teachers will continue to work with school officials, but putting a heavy burden on teachers is difficult, Littman said.

"To expect teachers to do that and cut their pay doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me," she said.

Having a state budget would give school leaders more direction.

"Until we get a budget, nobody has any idea what to do," Littman said.

The goal is for everyone to keep their jobs, Hart Board President Steve Sturgeon said.

"I don't want anyone to lose their jobs," he said. "I would hope that we could accomplish our objectives with attrition and reduction of other expenses."

The possible layoffs come as district officials anticipate a $32.5 million cut to the district budget over the next two-and-a-half years based on the governor's proposal, chief financial officer Sue Guthrie said.

The cuts amount to about $13 million a year, or a 7 percent slice to the annual budget, she said.

Proposals are on the table, but the board has yet to make any final decisions about cuts.

"We need to have a budget from the state before we can make any decisions," Guthrie said.

She considers the anticipated cuts to be "unprecedented."

Mid-year cuts for the 2008-09 year amounts to a $275 reduction in spending for each student, she said.

Cuts for 2009-10 could amount to a decrease of $465 per student.

In the meantime, a hiring freeze is in place for five Hart district positions, Guthrie said.

District officials are also more thorough in approving requests for supplies and services at the nearly 20 junior and high schools.

"The more that we save, the less that we have to cut in future years," Guthrie said.

To meet the March 15 deadline, district officials are working on a seniority list to draw preliminary layoff notices off of, Neal said.

A tentative list of preliminary layoff notices includes 33 math teachers; 22 English teachers; 19 social studies teachers; 18 counselors; 13 science teachers; 10 physical education teachers; seven foreign language teachers; three elective teachers, one health teacher; four administrators and one ROTC instructor, she said.

Even though counselors are on the list to receive preliminary layoff notices, the governor's proposal does not mention that state funding for counselors will go away, she said.

Neal expects to present the list during the Feb. 18 governing board meeting and for the numbers and categories to change until then.

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