Jordan cutting 500 jobs, many programs to cope with crunch

Education » Staffing to take biggest hit in the latest budget crisis.
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The Jordan School District will cut staff by 500 employees, half of them teachers, and increase class sizes to compensate for an estimated $30 million budget shortfall next school year.

The district has already laid off 200 support staff this year, and further reductions could be necessary, depending on cuts to the state education budget, said district spokeswoman Melinda Colton.

At least 250 teachers will lose their jobs, Colton said, with the remaining 250 layoffs coming from administrative and support staff like nurses, counselors and librarians. Layoffs will be based on seniority.

With 88 percent of the district's budget dedicated to salaries and benefits, staff takes the biggest hit in a budget crunch, Colton said.

The layoffs and other measures were approved Tuesday by the Jordan Board of Education.

"When you're looking at a 30 million [dollar] shortfall, you don't have anywhere to go," said School Board president Peggy Jo Kennett. "I think all of us had a hard time sleeping Tuesday night, realizing the impact of the decision we had made."

Teachers who keep their jobs will see an average of four more students in each class. High school teachers will lose a preparation period, teaching seven out of eight classes on a block schedule, instead of the current six.

Special programs will take an $11 million hit. The district could eliminate its print shop, the Jordan Alternative Middle School or classroom literacy coaches, though specifics have not yet been decided.

The cuts were a difficult decision for the board, which also considered furloughs and a tax increase, Kennett said. But after public outcry following a 20 percent property tax increase this school year, the board decided to shelve that option, though it could resurface if the state budget shrinks more than expected.

The board's decision doesn't sit well with the Jordan Education Association, whose leaders feel other options would better serve the district.

"The JEA is against any staff reductions before the school board makes a commitment to other options such as furloughs and tax increases," said president Robin Frodge.

The JEA asked for a property tax increase of $5 for every $100,000 in home value, which would have yielded $14 million, plus a district-wide five-day furlough, to save another $4 million, Frodge said. She is concerned that the mandated cuts won't allow the district to rebound once the economy and the district's tax base improve.

Teachers like Bingham High's Brett Boberg say the measures will have a dramatic impact on test scores and time spent with students.

Boberg, a nine-year district employee, expects his job teaching history and journalism is safe, but said losing a prep period means making changes in his teaching style. With at least 37 students in each class already, Boberg says he will have to assign fewer essays, which could negatively affect essay-driven advanced placement test scores. He also plans to use more peer graded activities.

Teachers are also considering showing more movies to catch up on paperwork, and giving more Scantron tests, which are easier to grade, Broberg said.

The board began working on the 2010-11 budget in November, instead of waiting until March as it normally would to give employees as much time as possible to find other jobs, Kennett said.

The board knew the shortfall was coming after beginning this school year $20 million in the red. Last year, that hole was backfilled by the district's rainy day fund. But with that fund depleted, the money had to come from somewhere else. The remaining $10 million is based on an expected state education budget cut of 3 percent, Colton said.

"Laying off people and increasing class sizes is totally contrary to what our board is about," Colton said. But, "when your income has been cut, you have to live within your means."

-- Tribune staffer Kirsten Stewart contributed to this story.

Jordan downsizing

Jordan, formerly Utah's largest school district, once served 88,000 students and employed 9,500 people. Since July 1 of last year, when the district was nearly halved after formation of the breakaway Canyons School District, it has slowly downsized. Enrollment is now 49,000 students. After the new round of layoffs, the district will have 4,500 employees.

Here's how the district will trim to deal with its $30 million budget shortfall:

Administrative positions » $2.5 million

Eliminating, reducing or changing programs » $11 million

Non-teacher classroom positions » $1 million

Increase class size by four students » $12.5 million

Classified positions » $3 million

Source: Jordan School District