, Gloucester, MA

May 15, 2013

Editorial: School officials right to eye enrollments for teaching spots

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — It’s certainly understandable that the issuance of tentative layoff notices to five Gloucester High School teachers would cause consternation among teachers and parents alike.

No one likes to see anyone facing a loss of his or her job, the potential loss of a teacher who has worked well with their children can also be disruptive for parents, and — from the comments of Gloucester teachers’ union president Andrea Pretzler — it seems clear the handling of the notices in this case could have been better communicated by school officials.

Yet it’s important to note that these potential layoffs are not related to the fiscal 2014 school budget, as is often the case. Superintendent of Schools Richard Safier said that the high school pink slips are based on teacher “performance” and on student class enrollments. And those, in fact, are criteria that the high school and the school district should indeed utilize in mapping out the teaching lineup for the coming year.

The notifications, which went out last Friday, were issued to meet a contractual deadline, said Safier and School Committee Chairman Jonathan Pope. But while contractual pink slips have become a sad rite of spring for many younger teachers – the deadline for those notices this year, which cite a potential lack of funding for specific positions, is June 15, these notices are different.

One of them went to popular and longtime vocational instructor Jack Andrews, and Safier noted that Andrews’ potential layoff may already be rendered moot since it was based on a lack of enrollment in his classes, and that more students have signed up just over the past few weeks.

But if indeed classes taught by Andrews or anyone else were to draw just a handful or so of students, there is frankly no logical way the district can assign a teacher to that size class; and if that means shifting a teacher to another class, and then perhaps squeezing out someone else, then so be it.

The fact is, the city’s school system continues to face declining enrollments, losing 25 percent of its students over the last decade, as Mayor Carolyn Kirk noted last week. And even with the closing of the charter school and the pending shutdown of St. Ann’s, the city is budgeting for a greater outflow of school choice students to other districts for fiscal 2014, which begins July 1. As enrollments drop, there is simply no need for the schools to carry the same number of teaching jobs, whether a position seems budgeted or not.

The more that Safier and other school officials look at enrollments, and the more they look at teacher performance, the more they must adapt the school system to best meet all of the students’ and parents’ needs.

If they see they need to make personnel changes, they must be able to do so — and they deserve credit for steps they have taken to date.

Teachers and others need to recognize that as well.