Facing layoffs | March 20, 2009 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |


Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - March 20, 2009

Facing layoffs

Donlon School teachers cope with losing their jobs because of state, school district budget shortfalls

by Jeb Bing

School photos are usually memorable snapshots of the good times on campus. They are not like these shown on this issue's cover and these pages of teachers wearing pink because they've just received notices of possible layoffs.

Donlon Elementary School principal Marc Schweitzer gave out the notices last week to 20 teachers and special education aides. They were among about 150 in the Pleasanton school district that are facing termination May 15, the date teachers are required to be notified if they won't keep their jobs in the coming school year. Classified employees, including administrative aides, clerical, custodial and other hourly workers, must be notified 45 days before their supposed to return to work for the 2009-10 school year.

"It was my job to deliver these notices to each of the 20 certificated teachers at Donlon," Schweitzer said. "I met with teachers individually and discussed it and then handed them the information. In my 20 years as a school principal, these last two days of delivering notices of possible layoffs have been the most difficult in my career. I have never had to do this before."

The layoffs, along with possible cuts of reading specialists, librarians and even the scrapping of Pleasanton's class size reduction program, which limits kindergarten through third grades and ninth grade English and math classes to no more than 20 students, are the result of severe reductions in state education funds. The Pleasanton district alone faces a shortfall of $8.7 million and the school board, worried that the state's ongoing fiscal crisis could worsen, has pledged to reduce its budget by nearly $10 million.

Some relief could come May 19 when voters will decide on a series of bonds, new taxes and other funding measures that could help close part of the state's $41.6-billion budget deficit. If approved, those measures could add more funds for education, although it's unclear how much would be made available to Pleasanton or other school districts, many which face far greater shortfalls going into the new school year.

The Pleasanton district also is expected to receive $2.1 million in federal stimulus funds that Congress and President Obama have recently approved. These funds will be earmarked for special education programs. Because Pleasanton funds special education out of its general fund, there would be a corresponding freeing up of $2.1 million for general fund uses, which could ease the number of program and personnel cuts now being planned.

However, as Superintendent John Casey pointed out last week, "these stimulus funds are one-time monies only, so we wouldn't be able to count on them again next year."

Key to sparing some of the cuts is a $233-a-year parcel tax that the school board is asking voters to approve in a special election June 2. To pass, two-thirds plus one of those voting in the election must approve the measure. If it passes, the tax, which would expire after four years, would raise $4.5 million, enough to keep class size reductions both at the elementary and high school levels.

Counselors, music programs, librarians and reading and math support programs also would continue unchanged. Other administrative and teaching positions that already are being cut and are not part of these specific programs would not be saved through the tax.

That's a concern to the 20 teachers at Donlon who, because of their low seniority, could still lose their jobs.

"I got my notice a week ago Monday at 8 a.m.," said Britni Miller, a fourth-grade teacher at Donlon. "I expected it since this is only my second year as a teacher. I live in Pleasanton so obviously I am going to be voting for the parcel tax. I'll just have to wait to see if the tax passes and then to find out if the district will be hiring any of us back."

"I'm married and we just bought a house," she added. "My husband went back to school so we are both kind of living on my income right now. Teaching is what I want to do and love to do, but there aren't a whole lot of choices to look at."

Miller was born and raised in Pleasanton, attended Walnut Grove Elementary and Harvest Park Middle schools and graduated from Foothill High in 2003. She holds a bachelor's degree from UC Davis and received her teaching credential from Cal State East Bay before being hired by the Pleasanton district.

First grade teacher Jessica Posson is also facing termination May 15, after seven years as a teacher at Donlon. Like Miller, she was also born and raised in Pleasanton, attending Alisal Elementary and Pleasanton Middle schools before graduating from Foothill in 1997. She received her bachelor's degree and teaching credential at Cal State East Bay.

"This notice of possible layoff that I received was totally unexpected," Posson said, who is expecting her first child May 6. "We were told that 2002 hires would not be affected and then Monday morning we got the possible layoff notices."

"I've been told that my salary is based on the success of the measures being voted on May 19 in the state election and that if the district budget gets any worse, I'll be cut," she added.

Married and living in Livermore, Posson said her husband is working part-time while completing his master's degree at UC Berkeley.

Also facing layoff May 15 is Stephanie Kernan, now in her first year at Donlon as a kindergarten teacher. She's also Pleasanton-born and attended Walnut Grove and Harvest Park before graduating from Amador Valley High School. Her sister Brittany Kernan, who is in her third year as a teacher at Alisal, also has been notified that she could be terminated May 15. Both women are the daughters of school board trustee Pat Kernan.

"We're not finding any teaching opportunities anywhere in the state," Stephanie Kernan said. "I'm looking into teaching abroad or possibly moving back to Colorado, where I received my degree at Colorado College."

Also affected by the school district's budget shortfall is Nancy Marks, a longtime special education teaching aide at Donlon. Although not faced with a layoff, at least not yet, she has been told her hours will be reduced by 45 minutes a day starting April 3.

"There are 12 of us here who have been told to reduce our hours," Marks said. "That means that we will meet the buses when they arrive with our students in the morning and then take them to the buses in the afternoon at the same time we have been told to quit working. That will give us little time to prepare our classrooms for the day or clean up and get ready for the next day in the afternoon."

Marks said the reduction in hours, along with an increase in medical insurance, will cost her $400 a month.

Donlon is designated to handle some of the most severely handicapped and mentally challenged youngsters among the district's nine elementary schools, including children with Down syndrome, autism and other conditions.

Adding to Marks' woes is the fact that her husband, who is self-employed, is faced with a downturn in his business that has reduced his income, too.

But it's not all gloom, Marks was quick to add.

"We make a special effort to kick back a little on the weekends and have a good time," she said. "Life goes on and we'll make the best of it."

Getting 'pinked'

Donlon Elementary School teachers facing layoffs and dressed in pink are:

* Melissa Schussel, 4th-5th grade

* Eryn Neidle, 4th grade

* Angela Serrano, 2nd grade

* Lisa Taw, reading specialist

* Britni Miller, 4th grade

* Stephanie Kernan, kindergarten

* Kelly Munson, special needs aide

* Chely George, special needs aide

* Debbie Hsu, special education assistant

* Darlyn Johnson, special education assistant

* Nancy Marks, special education assistant

* Vinitha Ravindran, special education aide

* Kobra Salmibakhsh, special education aide

* Kim Kozuch, 1st grade

* Cindy Vance, kindergarten

* Jessica Posson, 1st grade

* Christy Verbeck, 1st grade

* Jeniffer Heid, 1st grade

* Mary Ouelette, 2nd grade

* Chris MacChesney, 2nd grade

* Jenny Eisenbies, 2nd grade

* Denicia Erickson, kindergarten

* Melanie Wilcox, 2nd-3rd grade

* Connie Weaver, 2nd grade

* Tina Wise, 1st grade


Posted by Meghan, a resident of Castlewood
on Mar 20, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Good luck teachers! Growing up in the Pleasanton school district, I know how wonderful the curriculum is and I hope it continues!

Posted by Julie, a resident of Del Prado
on Mar 20, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Does the weekly think these teachers are the only ones being affected by this economy? I lost my job, and know many others who lost theirs, but our pictures are not on the front page of the paper.

If you want to see the real reason for schools, you have to blame this on the state legislature that has increased government spending by 40% over the last 6 or 7 years. The state representatives would love for us to pass a parcel tax so they can continually lower the amount they pay to the schools, somewhat like the lottery message I saw in another posting. If all these districts pass parcel taxes for schools, the legislators in Sacramento win (they get more money to waste on other items). The taxpayers loose and those districts with primarily low-income familes who cannot afford a parcel tax would loose. We would be much better off with the counties keeping our property taxes for the schools and allow the low-income districts fail. That is the direction we are going anyway.

Posted by Disagree w/B, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2009 at 5:15 pm

It is unfortunate that these newest teachers have been told they won't have jobs in the fall. I know it is a legal requirement, but the budget isn't finalized until the end of June. I hope the best of them will be back.

I was dismayed to see that out of all the possible schools and 150 teachers or other employees who received pink slips, that the editor chose to feature one board member's daughters. Between the "Streetwise" question/answers and this article, you wouldn't know there is opposition to the parcel tax or options to address the estimated shortfall in other ways.

Also interesting is the superintendent's quote about not being able to count on one-time finds next year. Imagine if he remembered that when he was negotiating large wage increases or choosing not to put funds aside for "economic uncertainty."

Posted by registered user, Sandy, a resident of Mohr Park
on Mar 20, 2009 at 5:54 pm

Julie -- there is wording written right into the legal details of the parcel tax regarding the possibility that the state could take back a corresponding amount of funding for our schools. In that case, the parcel tax would no longer be collected.

The state legislature is certainly to blame for creating this crisis. The parcel tax is what we can do as Pleasanton residents to protect our children from the worst of the impact. In the long term, we will need to elect state legislators who will act more responsibly with respect to education funding. That's our responsibility as citizens.

Posted by JBower, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2009 at 6:27 pm

20 teachers at Amador received pink slips last week. Yet the actual decrease being planned for is only about 8 positions! (103 current; 95 next year per Bill Coupe.)

Isn't that extreme overkill to hand out slips to two and a half times the number of actual positions that will be lost? It looks like the same type of inflated numbers are happening at all the schools.

I can understand the teachers' frustration but shouldn't they be directing their anger at the district for putting so many extra teachers in this position? Shouldn't they be angry at the union for not getting into serious negotiations back in January so the pink slip deadline would not have to affect so many?

Instead they seem to be directing that frustration towards parents and the community which of course, is exactly what the ditrict wants. And the Weekly is just helping them with their efforts.

Posted by Julie, a resident of Del Prado
on Mar 20, 2009 at 6:31 pm

How was Pat Kernan able to vote to put the parcel tax on the ballot when he has two family members who received pink slips? That seems like a conflict of interest to me.

Sandy, the board previously talked about the possibility of lowering the tax if more money came in and they were told that was not possible. Once it is voted on, the assessor has to do the assessment of this tax until it terms out or is overturned by another vote. What is voted on by the people can only be changed by a vote of the people. What you are referring to is the language in the resolution that says if the state adds a law to lower the payment to a district by the amount the district receives as a parcel tax, this tax would no longer be collected. First, the state is not going to do such a law, and second, if they did, I don't think legally the district could remove the tax. That clause in the resolution was placed there to confuse people into thinking that if the district got more money that the tax would go down.

Posted by frank, a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Mar 20, 2009 at 7:02 pm

The front page took me aback and gave me a sense of indignation. These teachers are still employed, were given notices because their union contract requires it, and most likely the majority of the faces in the picture will be back in fall. In the private sector, you are given notice when you no longer have a job!

Put on the front page of the Weekly the faces of real unemployed, who are all around us. They have paid the taxes that provides the teacher's step and column increases irrespective of Great Recessions!

Posted by john, a resident of Donlon Elementary School
on Mar 20, 2009 at 7:11 pm

on the streetwise page of this weeks PW, 5 people interviewed - all in favor of the parcel tax -what were the odds on that?
Guess no point in voting against it

Posted by Disagree w/B, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2009 at 7:32 pm

Streetwise usually lists a location--this one says "around town." They seem hand picked. The cover photo, the article's lack of coverage about the opposition on the blogs, and the previous editorial: one sided coverage.

Posted by registered user, Jeb Bing, a resident of editor of the Pleasanton Weekly
on Mar 21, 2009 at 6:31 pm

Just a reminder that we are restricting all posts related to the June 2 parcel tax measure to registered users of the Pleasanton Weekly Town Square forum. We have found that this keeps the conversations more civil and focused without any restriction on what posters say or the opinions they express.