Hundreds of Connecticut teachers have been warned they could get pink slips later this spring, leaving some parents worried about larger class sizes next fall and whether reform efforts might stall in their city schools.
State law requires school districts to notify non-tenured teachers by April 1 if there's a possibility they could be laid off, but in stable budget years, those notices are later rescinded as budgets are settled.
This year, education officials say job cuts are inevitable in some districts. Municipal finances are strained and state leaders are unsure whether Connecticut can match last year's state aid to local districts -- and they've almost guaranteed there will be no increases to keep up with inflation, just as there haven't been for the last two years.
``This coming year, misery will have plenty of company,'' said Joseph Cirusuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents. ``One community after another is adopting zero-increase budgets. And with no increase in the state money and no increase in the locals, something's got to give.''
About 700 public school teaching jobs disappeared last year throughout Connecticut through retirements, attrition and layoffs. It marked the first dip in about a decade, leaving about 52,700 full- and part-time positions on the books statewide.
No state agency or education groups had definitive numbers this week on how many non-tenured teachers received warnings they could be laid off this year. Reviews of school board minutes statewide show several hundred were issued, though final decisions won't be made until after state and local budgets are settled, likely in June.
Milly Arciniegas, whose son is an eighth-grader at Hartford's E.B. Kennelly School, said she and others are so concerned that they plan to ask the state Board of Education to intervene in how layoffs are determined in city schools.
They worry newer teachers who have been specially trained as part of curriculum reforms could lose their jobs because they lack seniority, the deciding factor in Hartford layoff decisions under union contract terms.
``Once those layoffs start, that's what it's going to look like,'' Arciniegas said. ``That could be catastrophic to our reforms. We've all worked so hard and all we want is to be able to keep making progress.''
Joshua Starr, Stamford's schools superintendent, said those feelings are shared in many urban districts that are trying to boost students' achievement while worrying about shrinking budgets.
Stamford's proposed budget for 2011-12 would eliminate 29 jobs in teaching, administration and other positions, though Starr said they do not yet know how many would be through attrition and how many might be through layoffs.
``I think the challenge for us in the urban districts is maintaining the pace of reform. It's quite frustrating when you bring in people, you train them and then they get bumped or moved around,'' Starr said.
The layoffs have already started in some communities. New Haven cut 42 education jobs in February, including nine teaching positions and various other spots such as administrators, truant officers and a cafeteria manager. City officials have said about 60 more teaching jobs could be in jeopardy depending on the outcome of 2011-2012 budget proposals.
The potential layoffs aren't all in struggling urban districts, either. Even wealthy Westport has put 140 teachers on notice that they could lose their jobs.
Representatives of the state's two largest teacher unions, the Connecticut Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, said this week they've seen an increase in the number of school districts sending out layoff warnings to non-tenured teachers to protect their right to make job cuts if necessary.
``It's probably one of the most unsettled years I've seen. There's a large degree of uncertainty, and of course, that's very much dependent on what happens with the state budget,'' said Sharon Palmer, president of the AFT in Connecticut and a former teacher in Waterford, which is laying off 11 teachers in its 2011-2012 budget.
New Britain, home of the state's largest high school, laid off two teachers last year and cut 50 other jobs through retirements and attrition. School board chairwoman Sharon Beloin-Saavedra said they were able to avoid more layoffs last year by using one-time federal stimulus grants, but more than 100 teaching jobs could be in jeopardy this year.
They've already decided to cut full-day kindergarten down to a half-day schedule, a decision she called particularly painful.
``We were hanging off the cliff last year, and then that (federal) money saved us and we were able to recall teachers and stabilize our school system. With no one-shot funding saving us this year, we're going to be over the cliff, no doubt about it, she said.