Teachers abuzz over job security

Fall staff cuts are the talk at high schools as officials tangle with a new scheduling system.

Published April 7, 2007

TAMPA - Hillsborough County high schools are buzzing over rumors that a large number of teachers stand to lose their jobs in the fall.

School district officials have little information to share about the numbers affected - or whether teachers should worry.

The official advice: Wait for the dust to settle. If jobs are cut at one school, teachers can find employment at another.

That offers little consolation to Shannon Peck-Janssen, a social studies teacher at Freedom High. Her school is losing 10 teaching positions, though student enrollment should be flat.

"Teachers are upset. They're frustrated more than anything else," said Peck, whose job is secure. "They feel like they have been stabbed in the back."

She said a group of teachers is organizing a protest for the School Board meeting Tuesday night. More than 100 instructors are expected to show up.

Some blame the losses on a scheduling change that has drawn the ire of many teachers. In the fall, high school teachers will have to increase their daily instruction time. For many, it will mean adding to class load.

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia says the change is needed to meet class-size limits in the face of a shortage of qualified teachers. The district anticipates savings of $28-million in new employee salaries and benefits.

School officials say the change is among several factors making the routine job of teacher assignments more difficult this year.

"Across the board, there are going to be more teachers in the pool than there have been in the past," said secondary education general director David Steele, referring to the auction where instructors whose positions are cut find jobs at other schools.

A major complication is the district's effort to meet the class-size cap of 25 students in high school before it becomes law in the fall of 2008. Officials are offsetting the demand for more classes by asking teachers to do more.

Consider the impact on a department offering 30 classes taught by six teachers. Next year, it can offer the same number of classes with five.

"It's corporate downsizing," said Bruce Burnham, a social studies teacher at Armwood High School.

Deputy Superintendent Ken Otero says the situation remains fluid. Initially, the district projected large cuts at some schools, then realized the numbers didn't reflect actual people. There were teachers who signed up for an extra class at extra pay. Many can stay at their schools next year, but won't earn the extra salary.

"My advice would be just to wait until all the dust clears and you actually see where all the changes are," Otero said, noting schools will see openings created by retirements and personal leaves.

The situation varies by school.

At Freedom High, Principal Richard Bartels expects to lose 10 teaching jobs, including two math and two English instructors. Also hard-hit were electives like business and family and consumer sciences.

"The losses have been quite heavy this year," Bartels said.

But at King High School, Principal Carla Bruning expects to gain four or five teachers. She has benefited from a new class schedule. King is abandoning the block format - where students take four courses per semester in a college-style format - and replacing it with a traditional seven-period class day.

"For us, it's been positive," Bruning said.

The Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association is monitoring the situation. President Jean Clements is hearing that the hardest-hit fields are teachers of students with disabilities and vocational instructors, and did not result directly from the requirement to teach an additional class.

"It's better than we thought, but it is a tougher year than most," she said.

But the rumor mill is taking a toll among high school teachers already being asked to work harder.

"Morale is low for teachers at the high school level," said Nancy Feldhaus, a math teacher at Sickles High School. "It's like quietly sullen, just a little sad."

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or 813 226-3400.