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Laid-off teachers face tough choices


HUDSON–As the end of the school year approaches, a note of sadness seeps into what is normally a lighthearted time. This spring, due to cutbacks in state funding for education, Columbia County saw unprecedented job losses at all its public schools .

In all, 192 of teachers and other education workers around the county will not return to their schools or BOCES next fall. With 14,800 losing education jobs across the state, the chances of finding another teaching job seem slim at best. Some of the teachers being laid off borrowed to get degrees in education, gifted people who found a vocation working with kids. They are not losing their jobs because they didn’t measure up. Some received tenure at the end of the year even as their positions were being eliminated.

Several teachers who agreed to speak about their situation asked that they not be identified by name.

One departing teacher said he has tried but so far failed to land another teaching job in spite of great recommendations, including one from his principal. “You’re competing against around 1,000 people for one position,” he said. He said he had heard of two teachers who did find teaching jobs in high school art and math departments, but most of the people in his situation are still looking.

“I considered going back to school, but it’s tough to justify taking out more loans and acquiring more debt, when there’s no guarantee of education jobs coming back. The school district could make do with that number of teachers for next 20 years. I’m trying to take it one day at a time and hoping to get called back. Maybe the year after next will get better,” he said.

He said he does have one thing to be thankful for: last fall he almost purchased a house, but thought better of it. “It would have been tight, even with my salary,” he said.

Now this teacher is looking for stop-gap work while hoping not to have to change careers, but he admits to anxiety while “trying to keep it together.”

Another teacher said although she’s still young enough to pull up stakes and work somewhere else, she’s emotionally devastated. For her, it was tough to break the news to her grade school class.

“I didn’t tell the kids until after state tests were done. It was very sad. We laughed and cried together. They understand why, and are being very mature,” she said.

She checks all the usual websites for job listings. “There’s not a lot out there right now in education. You don’t find anything. There’s nothing open at the moment.”

She said she loves the district and is sorry to be leaving. “It’s not the school’s fault that they had to lay off people. It’s unfortunate we have a bad economy. Nobody wants to see anybody losing their jobs. It’s a tough market. It’s not just in Hudson.”

During the school budget process talk about teachers accepting a pay freeze to save colleagues’ jobs came to nothing. One departing teacher remembers a representative from NYSUT, the teachers’ union, telling the faculty not to even consider such a move and that every teacher in the district would have to agree on a pay freeze in order for it to go through.

“Why wouldn’t a majority vote allow the contract to be amended,” he asked. The issue was not voted on.

“Before we balance the budget on backs of teachers and other public employees under the name of public sacrifice, we ought to ask why the state is not doing more,” said Carl Korn, media representative for NYSUT, who points out that the state cut $1.4 billion from its education budget and is in the process of shifting the burden onto taxpayers.

“We ought to ask why the state is not doing more. There are other options out there,” he said. He was referring to proposals for a stock transfer tax, a plan to tax Wall Street to subsidize education that some are lobbying to have included in this year’s state budget.

Governor Paterson has said the budget will contain no new taxes other than those on cigarettes and soft drinks. The governor has given the legislature until June 28 to adopt his budget or he will allow state government to shut down.

A retirement incentive will be considered at Hudson’s next board of education meeting June 28, the same day as the governor’s deadline. If the offer is sweet enough, some teachers might take it, and that could bring other teachers back to work in the district.

“I’m saddened by the number of good teachers being let go, but I understand what the district was up against,” said one teacher, who still has a job in the district. “I wish there was a better outcome. You hope that there will be call-backs for those who were let go. I certainly don’t feel safe. If staying is based on hierarchy, and dependent on qualifications and certification, I’ll be just that much closer next year, tenured or not. I’m relatively new to the district. Tenure would not necessarily save you from budget cuts.”

Measuring the loss

HILLSDALE–The cutbacks in state aid to local school districts is responsible for the loss of 145 teaching and other educational positions in the county. Adding to that are cuts atr Questar III, which bring the total to 192.

Below, by district, is the toll of positions cut for the next school year:

Taconic Hills. 47.8

Hudson: 50 ,

Chatham 13

Germantown 4.5,

Ichabod Crane: 40

Questar III/BOCES: 47

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