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Facing deficit, St. Paul schools cut 143 teachers

  • Article by: EMILY JOHNS
  • Star Tribune
  • June 10, 2009 - 8:26 PM

More than 100 teachers in the St. Paul district will have to look for new jobs this summer.

On Tuesday, the school board let go 143 teachers in a long-anticipated move to help deal with next year's budget deficit.

"What's really difficult is that we're looking at a lot of teachers," said Teresa Rogers, executive director of human resources and employee relations for the district. "These are good teachers."

Of the 143 teachers, there were 116 non-tenured teachers let go for budget reasons, 26 non-tenured teachers let go for performance reasons, and one tenured teacher let go for budget reasons.

The district, which is facing a $25 million deficit for the 2009-10 school year, estimates this move could save at least $6 million. More than 80 percent of the district's budget is spent on salaries and benefits for its 6,300-member workforce.

St. Paul is not alone in its budget situation.

Schools statewide are facing teacher cuts, said Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, as administrators struggle to balance budgets in the face of flat education funding from the Legislature.

Croonquist said surveys of the metro-area districts his organization represents predict that at least 600 metro-area teachers will lose their jobs to reconcile budget cuts of $135 million for next year.

There are about 3,500 teachers in St. Paul. In the past four years, the district has let go about 37 non-tenured teachers annually.

Non-tenured teachers who lose their jobs are not automatically recalled to teaching positions in the district if there are openings, Rogers said, but they can apply for the jobs.

Labor officials reacted with "real frustration and real sadness," said Mary Cathryn Ricker, president of St. Paul teachers' union.

Along with cutting teaching positions, administrators have said that solving the district's deficit problem will mean the loss of about 265 total staff positions, including about 16 positions in central administration.

St. Paul is also in line to receive up to $29 million from the federal stimulus package over the next two years.

District officials plan to spend the money on one-time investments that can have lasting reform benefits for schools, instead of using it to start multiple programs it won't be able to continue.

But the money, directed towards programs for low-income and special-education students, could result in the "redesign" or "creation" of up to 80 full-time positions, some of which newly unemployed teachers might be able to apply for.

"The bigger hope here," said union leader Ricker, "is that the school board spends the money in a way that can save and create jobs, like it was intended."

Emily Johns • 612-673-7460

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