At O.C. Elementary School, Losses Aren’t Just on Paper : Fallout: Two favorite employees at a Mission Viejo campus are let go. They are among 47 district layoffs.


The children of Glen Yermo are among the first to feel the pinch.

The little elementary school in Mission Viejo is losing two of its favorite people today, an office aide and a remedial reading instructor. Both were laid off by the Saddleback Valley Unified School District, along with 45 other unlucky employees whose paperwork didn’t get approved before Orange County’s “paper losses” were discovered.

District officials said Thursday that they were forced to terminate the newly hired teachers’ aides, clerks and custodians because of Orange County’s investment losses.

“Everyone used to say it’s just on paper,” said Pam Bragg, who did everything at Glen Yermo from taking attendance to taking temperatures. “Well, guess what? It’s not on paper anymore.”


Letting Bragg and others go will save the district $50,000 a month, said Saddleback’s executive director of personnel, Jennifer Huff. The district, which has 29,000 students and 1,200 teachers, had no choice.

“Why did Saddleback do this when several other districts did not?” Huff said. “It was because we were trying to be prudent and look at the big picture and not commit the district to any additional expenditures.”

She stressed that district officials don’t consider the action a layoff, but a “hiring freeze.”

All Carol Harkins knows is that if she’d been hired one week sooner, she wouldn’t be “frozen” now.

Harkins, who’s been teaching remedial reading to nearly 40 children at Glen Yermo for the last six weeks, said she’s not worried about herself, though her husband is also out of work. She’s worried about the boys and girls in her five classes.

As the only person teaching one-on-one, intensive phonics at Glen Yermo, she fears there is now a void into which some slower students may tumble.


“Working with them in second and third grades makes a huge difference in how they read when they get to fourth and fifth grades,” she said, moments after a school district clerk told her not to bother attending a big meeting for new employees.

Neither Harkins nor Bragg admits to feeling any bitterness. Both hope to rejoin the district soon, and Harkins wonders if she can stay at Glen Yermo as a substitute.

But it was impossible Thursday to plan for the future when the present was a minefield of difficult goodbys.

As far as the children were concerned, Harkins couldn’t bring herself to tell them she was leaving. Not when they were busy giving her homemade Christmas presents and candy. And certainly not during their Christmas party.

The students will have to discover in their own way and their own time that Mrs. Harkins is gone.

“I love my job,” she said, smiling bravely. “We make nothing, although you get used to making nothing.”


Bragg’s thoughts exactly.

“I love my job,” she said as her fellow office workers looked on sadly. “If you have to work, you want to be in a job you enjoy. They just made me feel right at home from the onset. It was nice, feeling you were doing something important. Even if it wasn’t pulling in a hundred grand.”

Directly across from Bragg’s desk was a colorful wall display: a tree with pictures of Glen Yermo employees sprinkled throughout its branches. Beneath the tree, handcrafted letters read, “Glen Yermo Family.”

When the women of the office noticed that Bragg’s face was not part of the display, they told her she is part of the family, and vowed to add her picture at once.

“As a sign that you’re coming back,” one of the women told her.

Bragg smiled sadly.

With nothing to do Thursday afternoon, Harkins thought she might go to the malls. She wore a red Christmas sweatshirt, the word “JOY” embroidered across its front, a jarring contrast to her mood.

It would not be the shopping spree she anticipated only a few days ago, she said:

“It’s going to be a completely different Christmas.”

Every gift needs to be considered a little more carefully, said Bragg, who’d never been fired or laid off before this week.

“I think anyone in this position, that is counting on a job and doesn’t have it, it’s going to be difficult. When you’re talking 20 hours a week, it’s not that much, but it’s that extra little padding. . . . The more I digest it, the angrier I get.”