By Douglas Fehlen
Taking Drastic Action
Facing a budget deficit of more than $40 million next year, public schools in Providence, Rhode Island have informed all of the district's teachers that they may be terminated. While widespread job losses do appear to be coming, not all of the teachers will actually be forced out. The move, made at the end of February, puts the city in accordance with a regulation requiring that teachers be informed by March 1 if they won't have positions the following school year.
According to Providence mayor Angel Taveras, the 'overwhelming majority' of teachers will be back, but the city is in the process of making difficult decisions about which of its 40 schools will close in the fall to help make up the budget shortfall. Staff at shuttered schools will be fired, but the district's remaining teachers will still have jobs. The blanket termination letter campaign helps to ensure that the city can legally fire individuals working at affected buildings when school closures are confirmed.
Difficult Circumstances in Detroit
While the Providence Public School District is facing some tough decisions, the situation in Detroit is much more dire. The city's public schools face a budget deficit of $327 million. In anticipation of the need to make massive layoffs, Detroit Public Schools' emergency manager Robert Bobb this month announced that some 5,500 employees would receive layoff notices. As in Providence, determinations about which jobs are cut will be made when decisions about school closings are final.
When the layoffs were announced, Detroit Public Schools stated that up to half of its 141 schools could be closed. A pending proposal, though, calls for the closure of only eight schools. An additional 45 would be converted into charters in the next two years, a move that has many critics voicing concerns about privatized education. In addition to budget considerations, a downsized school system is seen as necessary due to population flight; enrollment in the city's public schools has dropped from 168,000 students in 2000 to 73,000 today.
Cuts a National Issue
By no means is it just Providence and Detroit facing challenges in public education. Budget deficits in nearly every state have led to huge reductions in funding for schools. Districts everywhere are making deep cuts, including reductions in staff. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has warned that between 100,000 and 300,000 jobs in public education may be cut. He has called for Congress to pass additional stimulus funding to help avoid an 'education catastrophe.'
No part of the U.S. is unaffected by slashed education funds. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, 350 teachers recently received layoff notices. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina have plans to cut 600 of 9,400 teaching jobs. And the numbers are even more staggering at the state level. New York officials have suggested that up to 15,000 school employees could lose their jobs. Illinois may eliminate some 17,000 positions in schools. And in California, 22,000 teachers could be out of work beginning in June.
Learn about growing demoralization among teachers at the national level.