Bethlehem, Easton schools mull teacher layoffs

March 25, 2011 10:10:12 AM PDT
Two Pennsylvania school districts could have to lay off hundreds of employees amid a budget crunch made more severe by cuts in education funding in the proposed state budget.

A layoff proposal released Thursday by the Bethlehem Area School District calls for the elimination of 168 employees to deal with a $11 million budget gap - up about $5 million following proposed education funding cuts in Gov. Tom Corbett's 2011-12 budget.

"No district I know expected the depth of the state cuts," Superintendent Joseph Roy told a school board meeting.

Under the proposal, the district would eliminate 44 teachers, including 20 at Liberty and Freedom high schools; 11 special education teacher assistants and 12 coaches, The Express-Times of Easton reported.

The district may also allow high school students in good standing to take fewer classes and leave school early, Roy said. Roy's staff also recommended cutting full-day kindergarten, ending tutoring and putting off buying new buses.

The district should instead tap its $8.9 million reserve fund to help stave off the cuts, teachers union President Jolene Vitalos said. But board president Michele Cann said the fund balance is necessary to maintain a strong credit rating and keep borrowing costs down.

"In this economy, this budget, people will lose their jobs," Roy said.

Corbett's proposed budget cuts $1 billion cut for Pennsylvania's public schools as part of his plan to close a projected deficit next year of $4 billion.

The cuts could leave another Northampton County school district in even worse shape.

Easton Area School District has a $12.9 million budget deficit that would require more than 200 teachers to be laid off, district officials said.

The board on Thursday authorized Superintendent Susan McGinley to determine the minimum number of staffers it needs based on instructional requirements and enrollment. A similar review last year resulted in the elimination of 72 teaching jobs.

"I know that this is a necessary step that we need to take with our budget situation being what it is," board member Jen Holzberger said, according to The Morning Call of Allentown. "I do also just want to express that I am saddened by what it represents for our district."

Easton would lose about $3.6 million under the proposed state budget.

Teachers union President Kevin Deely complained that Easton school officials are threatening to cut teachers without discussing other ways to close the budget gap.

"The district is going to ask us to solve their entire budget crisis, and we are willing to help, but we are not willing to take the entire burden," Deely said.