Negotiations between 1,400 teachers and the Newport-Mesa Unified School District have languished for more than a year. Now, as the teacher's union and management try to forge a three-year contract, there are hard feelings from the teachers' side over what some feel was an unfair ratio of teacher-to-administrator layoffs authorized by the school board this past spring.
Kimberly Claytor, president of the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers, said the two sides are trying to reach an agreement, and were back at the negotiation table Thursday. But she said that it's been difficult, given the fact that "not one administrator" received a layoff notice in late May to cover up the $13.5-million hole in the district's budget.
Meanwhile, 242 teachers belonging to AFT Local 1794 received layoff notices, many of them from the 22 elementary schools in the district. Making matters worse, class size is going to increase this coming school year for kindergarten through third grade, leaving the teachers in somewhat of a bind.
"There's a budget problem, and they're resolving the budget problem by doing a bunch of things, but the biggest thing they're doing and one that makes the biggest impact is increasing the class sizes at the K through 3 level," she said.
Neither Paul Reed, the district's chief business officer, nor Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard could not be reached for comment Thursday.
But school board President Karen Yelsey said the issue is much more complicated than how Claytor would have it appear.
Yelsey said there were 13 administrators who lost their jobs and received layoff notices, eight of them in the category of "Teacher on Special Assignment" — a program that was nixed by the district to shore up the budget shortfall, which was the result of state cutbacks in Sacramento.
Yelsey said the reason for the great discrepancy in the ratio of numbers — 242 teacher layoffs versus 13 administrators — was the result of a "seniority-based system" and not a "merit-based one."
"It's all spelled out in the state education code," Yelsey said, adding that if the state education code were different and terminations were based solely on merit, then they "wouldn't be having this discussion right now."
Yelsey said she and the rest of the school board were saddened to have to cut many of the elementary school teachers because everybody understood that that they were "energetic," "young" and "smart and enthusiastic."
"We have so many people who are upset with the teachers being laid off," Yelsey said. "And basically, we tell them that we have no control over that. The education code is dictated by seniority."
If there is any good news from the first round of layoffs of such magnitude in the history of the district, Yelsey said 24 of the 64 permanent, full-time teachers have already been hired back. Moreover, 178 of the teachers who received layoff notices fell under the category of "probationary" or "temporary," meaning their status is such that they are terminated every year, then rehired.
"It's just that this year many of them probably won't be rehired," Yelsey said.
Claytor said times are tough for teachers, and that the union so far has agreed to a "zero-percent" raise, but that's about it as far as agreements go.
"We're cognizant of the fact that we have a rough economy," Claytor said.