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District: Fewer students equals fewer teachers

William Ferchland

As enrollment declines continue and a March deadline looms, a report will be given tonight on possible teacher layoffs in Lake Tahoe Unified School District.

The district has experienced the departure of 112 students since the start of the school year, meaning an average monthly loss of 18.6 pupils and a pace of 186 students for the school year, according to Superintendent Jim Tarwater.

Since districts are funded by the number of enrolled students, the monetary loss of the enrollment is $500,000, said Tarwater, who acts as the district’s chief financial officer.

As it stands, Tarwater anticipates four teachers from the elementary level, two from the middle school and two from the high school to be given layoff notices.

A discussion on the possible layoffs will be given by Director of Human Services Beth Delacour to the board of education at a meeting scheduled to begin tonight at 6 at 1021 Al Tahoe Blvd.

Such preparation is needed. Per state law, notices must be given to teachers by March 15. For at least five years the district has battled enrollment declines, and the subsequent loss of money totaling more than $5 million over five years, with staff layoffs.

The hope from the teachers’ union president Carol Murdock is that any cuts to teaching levels will be kept to a minimum. Murdock said the word is spreading on possible staff reductions.

“I know the rumors are out there,” she said.

While logic dictates fewer students equals fewer teachers, factors such as retirements, the possible implementation of all-day kindergarten next school year and slower enrollment declines could stem the number of layoffs.

Murdock was unaware of teachers pondering retirement.

“I really haven’t heard of anybody retiring,” she said. “By now you’d think some people would be making the rumblings …”

Delacour said she has, or will be, meeting with school heads to help determine staffing needs.

Additional money could also help. Funds from better attendance levels could help soften the deficit.

“This is a critical three months for us,” Tarwater said.

The district also has $500,000 in an emergency fund. Decisions on how that money is spent, if at all, is reserved to the school board.

In years past cuts have hovered around or above $1 million. The tail end of the 2003-04 school year, which saw the termination of class-size reduction and two school closures for the 2004-05 school year, resulted in roughly two dozen teacher layoffs.

With the reinstatement of many teachers from the implementation of class-size reduction and the opening of the Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School, the administrators and Murdock agree the mood in the district is different this year. The cuts, Delacour added, are “not as deep.”

“It could be worse,” Delacour said. “We’re hoping it gets better.”

Murdock said she has yet to receive any urgent phone calls on the matter.

“Now maybe with this first board meeting and this discussion maybe I will start getting phone calls,” she said.


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