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5:29 AM Sun, Sept. 23rd

Humboldt Unified School District cuts 16 teaching jobs

The Humboldt School District Governing Board Tuesday evening cut 16 teacher positions for the 2010-11 school year.

The district will not offer contracts to one counselor, one librarian, one first-grade teacher, two English language learner teachers, four music/band teachers and seven kindergarten teachers.

Despite their reluctance to make cuts directly affecting academics, the board agreed the cuts were necessary for financial reasons.

"This is the kind of issue that no one looks forward to," said HUSD Human Resources Director Phil Young.

According to Young, the district is facing a $1.8 million to $2 million revenue shortfall, including a $1,150,000 cut because of the elimination of state money for all-day kindergarten.

"As part of the budget reduction process, we are scaling back, which means reducing staff," Young said.

Young explained that all of the people losing their jobs are "non-continuing, first- to three-year employees with one-year contracts."

During the public participation part of the meeting, Lake Valley Elementary School kindergarten teacher Katherine Williams said she received a "possible non-renewal letter" this past week.

She realizes that the district is between a rock and hard place, but she has a stake in the district.

"I have been here three years," Williams said. She added that she has a master's degree and her evaluations are excellent.

Williams, who is certified to teach kindergarten through sixth grade, said, "I don't know why I was given a letter of possible non-renewal just because I happen to teach kindergarten."

Board member Richard Adler said that if the district is cutting one-third of its kindergarten teachers, he wanted to know the expectations for all-day kindergarten when parents have to pay $10 per day.

"How many kindergarteners will there be?" Adler asked.

Young said the district recently completed a week of kindergarten registration. However, the schools do not usually get all kindergarteners registered until the first or second week of school.

"We had 195 students pre-register, which is 41 percent of the current kindergarten enrollment," Young said.

During registration, school officials asked parents if they would pay for all-day kindergarten.

According to Young, 39 parents would pay, 42 are unsure and 53 are not interested in all-day kindergarten.

"I am confident that when the parents who are unsure look at the cost of day care, they will realize they can get a professional educator for the same price," Young said.

The district could have four to five full-day kindergarten sections. If there are three classes, HUSD has enough teachers. If there are more than three, the district would have to "bring back teachers," Young said.

The district is planning another round of publicity to encourage parents to register their children for kindergarten.

HUSD Superintendent Dr. Henry Schmitt said, "We need to ratchet up our public relations. I am going to propose that our elementary school officials canvass their neighborhoods to identify children and sell the district."

Adler added, "If we look at this logically, most parents will be willing to pay $10 a day to have their children in kindergarten rather than a daycare setting."

HUSD sixth-graders will return to the elementary schools next year. The two middle school assistant principals are losing their jobs as part of that restructuring process, which district officials said would save about $330,000.

HUSD Assistant Superintendent Dean Slaga said "a teacher on assignment" would handle some of the assistant principal duties, including discipline.

Adler said, "Reducing staff is a terrible job, but we have to do it. I used to enjoy doing this (serving on the school board), but it is not very enjoyable now."

HUSD Governing Board President Gary Marks told the audience, "It looks bad from that side, but I assure you from this side it looks worse. We have no option if we want to meet our financial obligations."

As a final note, Young said he recently received three letters from teachers planning to retire and another 12 teachers have said they are leaving the district for various reasons. He asked teachers to keep in touch with district officials and check the district website for any available positions.