The 311 layoff notices going out to Fort Wayne Community Schools teachers today represents more than a massive budget-cutting effort by the school district.
Yes, the district needs to cut jobs to meet the $15 million loss its facing -- more than $9 million of that from Gov. Mitch Daniels' K-12 budget cuts. But the reductions amount to 91 permanent job cuts. The balance represent positions affected by a key provision negotiated by the district and its teachers' union in contract talks earlier this year. In exchange for retaining the incremental increase many teachers receive for additional years of service and for maintaining their current (and generous, by public-sector terms) health insurance benefits, the teachers agreed to new staffing and evaluation terms.
The concession will allow the district to hire teachers for the 11 LEAD schools -- each targeted for academic approvement -- based on the schools' needs. Without the new staffing provision, tenure rules would prevail and the district would have little flexibility in assignments.
Observers who point to the step increase the union maintained believe the teachers did not make concessions. Not true -- they sacrificed key contract provisions.
It's a painful process to leave 311 people wondering whether or not they will have a job next fall, but it might just be a preview of things to come. Political pressure is growing to weaken teachers' collective bargaining rights, so one-year contracts could be the wave of the future.
The larger question is long-term: Will college students be willing to invest tens of thousands of dollars in a degree to end up in a profession where they face uncertainty every spring? Certainly not the best and the brightest.
I attended a high school senior honors banquet last night. In previous years, there have been numerous students among the top ten planning to major in education. Not this year.