Story last updated at 1:31 p.m. Thursday, June 6, 2002

School district rehires teachers laid off in April
By Jenni Dillon
Morris News Service-Alaska

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District filled 25 teaching positions last week thanks to confirmation of federal grant money. Almost all the hires were teachers who had received pink slips in April.

Superintendent Donna Peterson explained that most of the 32 teachers who were laid off in April were in positions funded by the Class Size Reduction grant <> designed to maintain low teacher-student ratios in primary school classes <>and the Title I and Title V grants <> which fund remedial specialist positions in elementary and middle schools.

Those grants have to be renewed each year, and the federal government did not confirm the grants until this month, Peterson said.

However, the district is obligated by contract to notify employees of any layoffs before May 1.

That means the district has to determine whether or not to keep positions before knowing if funding is available. Most years, the district plans conservatively and lays off a handful of employees, then goes through the rehiring process once a budget is set.

"It happens all the time. The teachers know it's coming," she said. "The grant funding always comes through after May 1."

The situation came up at the bargaining table during the last round of contract talks between the district and the Kenai Peninsula Education Association earlier this month.

The teachers' union actually wanted to move the date to April 15, so that those employees whose jobs were not going to be retained would have more time to apply for new positions.

The district, however, contended that an earlier date would mean more layoffs each year, because state and federal budgets typically are not decided until May.

"If we push the date back, the district will be less informed (about the coming year's budget) and will be forced to be more conservative," said school board member Joe Arness at the negotiation meeting.

After discussion, the union decided to agree to the district's position, leaving the date as it stood with all parties recognizing that the time line is inconvenient, but unavoidable.

Peterson admitted, however, that this year the situation was more tense than usual because the district wasn't certain the grant money would be reinstated nationally.

"Nine times out of 10, the funding comes through," Peterson said. "This year, we were less sure than normal because of changes in federal legislation."

The Bush administration renamed the Class Size Reduction grant, now calling it the Leave No Child Behind grant. There also was a chance the money could be given over to state control and Alaska would choose to send all funding to rural schools rather than distribute it on a per-child basis.

In the end, however, the expected funding came through to the KPBSD, and the district opened interviews to all the laid-off teachers.

"They were all afforded interviews, though some chose not to come back," Peterson said. "Most were rehired in their own buildings."

Only six of last week's hires were filled by people from outside the district. Those hires fell into what Peterson called the "other" category and included jobs such as the open athletic director position at Nikiski Middle-Senior High School.

"We just weren't going to be able to fill those with people already here," Peterson said.

The other 19 positions <> nine funded by the Leave No Child Behind grant and 10 funded by Title grants <> were filled by teachers who had already been working for the district or who had been in long-term substitute positions in the area.

"They're our own folks," Peterson said.

Despite the grant money, the districtwide decrease in school enrollment will result in 15 fewer teaching positions in the district. Those positions have been eliminated through retirements and resignations.

<> Jenni Dillon is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion