More than 600 teachers could lose jobs in Oklahoma City

Tuesday, April 8th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ At least 350 teachers and perhaps as many as 600 could lose their jobs next year as the school district tries to make up for a funding crisis.

The Oklahoma City School Board took the first step toward eliminating the positions Monday night when it scheduled June 2 employment hearings for many of the teachers.

Board members said 600 teachers are in danger of losing their jobs in an attempt to save $9.6 million from next year's budget.

School officials have not finalized the plan and stress they are not yet cutting jobs. They said their goal is to eliminate 357 positions _ 13 percent of the districts 2,745-member teaching staff.

In Enid, the school board voted Monday to reduce 11 certified staff positions and cut more than $2 million from the budget. Teachers affected by the cuts will be notified Tuesday.

``This is one of the most difficult things to do as a board,'' said member Willa Jo Fowler. ``We're losing some really good people.''

In Jenks, the district is continuing with plans to cut 48 teaching jobs despite a proposed increase in state appropriations. Broken Arrow district plans to cut 40 positions.

In an emotional meeting in Oklahoma City, the board examined a list of teachers recommended to be cut. District administrators attempted to remove five teachers from the list and add six others, but realized they could not because it would violate the Open Meetings Act.

Cynthia Clegg, the district's senior human resources officer, said she hopes to know by late May how many teachers will lose their jobs. She said she would not know the final number of proposed layoffs until experienced teachers from six schools slated for closure are placed in new assignments.

District officials also don't know how many teachers plan to retire or resign, she said.

``We do not intend to wait idly for June 2,'' Clegg said. ``It is our intent to identify vacancies and offer those to people who are affected by this action after we're able to place our career teachers.''

Teachers will be rehired based on their certification area and seniority.

Leslie Starkey, a first-grade teacher at Sequoyah Elementary, is among the teachers considered for the cuts.

``There's just nothing for me to do,'' she said during Monday night's meeting. ``I can't substitute. I can't go look for another position because every other district in the state is going through the same thing.''

The proposed cuts would increase class sizes at all grade levels, with the most dramatic impact coming at secondary schools. Class sizes at higher grades are expected to rise from an estimated 24 students per teacher this year to 28 next year.

District officials said enrollment has declined about 3 percent during the last six years while the teaching pool rose by 15 percent.

A Douglass High School cosmetology teacher is among those facing a layoff. The school will discontinue the program and students can instead attend a cosmetology program at a CareerTech center, district officials said.

Star Spencer High School may eliminate its photography class.

Sharron Geer, a teacher in south Oklahoma City's Rancho Village Elementary, said it hasn't sunk in yet that she may not have a job next year.

``I believe I am an excellent teacher, just like I am sure all of these others are excellent teachers,'' Geer said. ``Teaching is a calling, and I am called to teach.''