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Safe for Now: Board of Ed Rehires Teachers for 2011-12 School Year

The iconic watercooler and bookshelf of the English department will remain for untenured teachers to use next year. | Photo by Isaac Stein '12

2011 has been a bleak year for hundreds of Connecticut educators, as budget cuts in towns across the state have threatened the jobs of many teachers and paraprofessionals.

Urban districts and wealthy suburban towns alike have taken measures – some more drastic than others – to cut down on the number of education jobs in each school district.  New Haven eliminated 42 education jobs in February; Stamford is planning to cut 29 positions for the upcoming year.

But while towns such as these have already implemented definite plans, educators in Westport and in some similar neighboring towns have faced a distressing uncertainty as to whether their jobs will remain intact for next year.

A recently tenured Fairfield teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous due to the nature of the subject, noted that while the jobs of his untenured colleagues had not been threatened, paraprofessionals working for the school district were given a warning that about 34 positions might be eliminated as a part of next year’s budget.

“Teachers in Fairfield didn’t have to worry about the budget cuts, but unfortunately, many paraprofessionals will lose their jobs,” he said.

An even greater number of Westport educators were similarly faced with insecurities about the safety of their jobs.  One untenured teacher at Staples noted that three distinct letters were sent out, each with varying degrees of severity.

Justin Miller, whose first year as choir director technically still leaves him untenured despite the nature of his position, also felt that the tones of the letters he received varied greatly.  Due to the fact that Miller has a unique teaching position, his situation was slightly different from that of many of his colleagues at Staples in that he received advanced notice from the Supervisor of Music for Westport schools about the pending issue.

Miller said that despite being told “not to worry,” he agreed that the March 1st notice sent out to 140 non-tenured teachers was blunt in tone.  It succinctly informed its recipients that Elliott Landon would “recommend … that [their contracts of employment] not be renewed for the 2011/2012 school year.”

But untenured teachers received good news on May 11, as Landon proposed a series of small budget cuts that would essentially add up to help keep the number of education jobs unchanged for next year.

A letter was sent out informing teachers that the board of education was “pleased to inform” them of their renewed contracts of employment.

The changes proposed – such as cutting spending on textbooks and library books, reducing the number of summer days worked by guidance counselors and psychologists, and eliminating employee healthcare costs –would help reduce the budget by about $250,000.

The decision was finalized on Monday, May 23 as the town approved a $98.1 million spending package for next year.  About seven teachers still will not be invited to keep their jobs, however, such as physics teacher Peter Knipp.

“I was an exception,” said Knipp, referring to the second letter sent out informing many teachers that their jobs would be safe.  “Because of enrollment numbers, I won’t be returning next year.”

While the situation has led to unfortunate outcomes for a few teachers like Knipp, the new and widely accepted budget has, overall, led to an enormous decrease in tension between Elliott Landon and the Westport teacher union.

As of now, Westport’s dedicated educators can breathe a collective sigh of relief.  “I’m happy I got the third letter, [which preserved my job],” said another Staples teacher who wishes to remain anonymous due to the subject matter.  “It was definitely reassuring.”

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