The once vague warning signs of end-of-ESSER fiscal cliffs are now becoming reality as teacher layoffs and other K12 staff cuts are underway in many districts. Despite ongoing reports of teacher shortages, superintendents are having to make tough personnel decisions as COVID-era budget surpluses turn to post-pandemic shortfalls that have been compounded by enrollment declines.
At the same time, another new survey finds that one-third of educators are now considering leaving their jobs.
Near Seattle, leaders of Everett Public Schools this week approved a “Reduced Educational Program” that would slash nearly $30 million from the district’s budget. The proposed cuts include more than 140 staff positions, including about 30 classroom teachers and about 30 support teachers and paraeducators. More than a dozen administrative positions could also be eliminated.
Leaders also intend to discontinue the district’s virtual school, Everett Virtual Academy, which would save $1.3 million. The goal of the reduction plan, if it’s included in the district’s finalized budget this summer, is to “have the least impact on the classroom by setting up the district for long-term financial stability,” Superintendent Ian Saltzman said at a school board meeting on Feb. 28.
Nearby, Seattle Public Schools are now grappling with a projected $131 million deficit. Several dozen employees, including school-based and central office staff, have been notified that they may be laid off, Superintendent Brent Jones said at a school board budget workshop on Feb. 28.
Leaders are also considering consolidating schools with low enrollment. “We’re in a difficult stage right now—we’re moving from theory to actual actions being taken,” Jones said. “This is actually impacting employees.”
In Northern California, West Contra Costa USD’s school board approved a “fiscal solvency plan” to hack nearly $20 million out of its 2024-25 budget, which would eliminate 131 full-time positions, EdSource reported. School boards in Massachusetts and West Virginia have also considered layoffs in recent weeks.
The trouble with teacher layoffs
As if teacher layoffs weren’t stressful enough, multiple organizations are warning that staff cuts—if they follow traditional patterns of prioritizing seniority— could reverse some of the gains schools have made in diversifying their workforces. “Last-in, first-out” policies are simply not equitable, argues a “So All Students Thrive” report from Educators for Excellence.
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“Because teachers who identify as people of color are more likely to be early in their careers than white teachers, they are also more likely to be let go,” the report says. “By grounding layoff decision-making in the evidence on what supports student learning, states and districts can protect recent progress to diversify the educator workforce—and help build a stronger, more equitable public education system.”
The report recommends that districts rethink the criteria for retention and layoffs. For instance, district leaders should give special consideration to teachers working in high-need subjects and those who speak multiple languages as well as educators who are products of grow-your-own programs or who come from underrepresented backgrounds.
A national study found seniority is the dominant factor in layoffs in nearly one-third (31%) of some of the largest districts in the country. The research, conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality, argues that a district’s mission to honor diversity and effectiveness is often contradicted by its reliance on seniority when it comes to teacher layoffs.
Still, exactly one-third of the districts studied use performance as the dominant factor for consideration for teacher layoffs while an increasing number of school systems are now considering multiple criteria in personnel decisions.