1,000 teachers to lose jobs

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At least 1,000 Minnesota teachers will be laid off by the end of this school year, a pair of polls found.

Rural and metro school associations surveyed their districts about potential teacher layoffs. When results were added, “1,000 layoffs this spring would be a conservative estimate,” said Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.

The mass teacher layoffs are a result of years of state education underfunding. Since 2003, state aid to schools has dropped 4.4 percent. More than 90 percent of school districts now rely on voter approved property tax levies to make up for the lack of state funds.

“Layoffs like this have been going on for years,” said Lee Warne, Executive Director of the Minnesota Rural Education Association. “Layoffs have already decimated many of our rural school faculties. To be forced to cut more this year is criminal.”

Warne said rural districts will lay off about 350 teachers, or an average of 4.5 percent of each district’s faculty. The layoffs in some districts are particularly devastating: One reported it must cut four teachers out of its staff of 32, another is forced to cut six of its 31 teachers. Cuts will hit southern Minnesota hardest, with about 4.6 percent of teachers facing layoffs. About 4 percent of teachers in the northwest and 3.3 percent in the northeast will face cuts, Warne said.

When layoffs from AMSD’s 36 metro districts are added to the rural count, Croonquist estimates the statewide total will be well past 1,000 teachers, adding that layoffs could double when staff and administration cuts are added.

The surveys do not include potential layoffs in regional centers such as St. Cloud, Rochester or Moorhead.

Paul Anton, chief economist for Wilder Research in St. Paul, said the layoffs’ effect on the state economy will be muted since the cuts are spread throughout the state.

“The economic impact will be negative but not huge,” he said. Teachers without jobs will continue to spend in their communities but will draw down savings or accumulate credit card debt to do so.

In the long term, a decline in school quality could lead to a decline in housing value, but that won’t be felt for a while, he said.

“But 1,000 jobs are 1,000 jobs,” Anton said, which means teachers, who make an average of $50,000 a year, will not help pull the state out of its deep economic funk.

That the loss of 1,000 jobs doesn’t create a sense of emergency puzzles Warne.

“When Northwest Airlines says it’ll cut 1,000 jobs, it’s a big deal; it’s on the front page,” but when schools cut 1,000 teachers, no one notices, Warne said.

“This should be bigger than pilots losing their jobs,” Anton said. “Losing teachers is more worrisome. Teachers affect the future workforce of our state.”

AMSD’s poll shows metro districts will be underfunded by almost $75 million next year. The budget shortfall “can easily be traced to the education funding bill that passed last session that calls for just a 1 percent increase in the basic funding formula,” he said.

The legislature is debating proposals that would send more money to schools as well as change the amount the state allots for each student.

In addition to underfunding, rural districts are being crushed by declining enrollment, Anton said.

“If you lose 10 percent of your students, you don’t chop 10 percent off your building,” he said. There are only so many pencils and principals that can be cut before teachers are cut and students receive a poorer education. The state needs to change how it pays districts for lost students and fixed costs, Anton said.

Warne concurred. “You’ll cut a custodian before a teacher because you want to protect the classroom, but when you get down to the nub, you can’t stay away from the teachers. We’re there now and we’ve been there for years.”

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