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Gary teachers face massive cuts

Between 400 and 450 public school teachers in Gary, Indiana, are facing unemployment this fall. The Gary Community School District mailed layoff notices to the teachers last week.

Gary Teachers Union Local 4 President Carlos Tolliver said he was expecting some layoffs because the district is likely to lose 800 students. This August, Gary schools’ enrollment is expected to stand at a little more than 9,000 students, down from nearly 9,900 this year. Enrollment declines usually trigger loss of state funding. At the same time, the district is also expected to run out of funds from a federal stimulus program. Still, Tolliver said he anticipated just 50 to 80 teaching positions, not hundreds, to be on the chopping block.

“It lacks coherency. The cuts were inflated and unjustified,” Tolliver told WBEZ Monday. “We’re looking at now trying to get the rationale by which the district made those decisions.”

Tolliver said, typically, the 1,300-member union and the school board have good relations and frequently discuss how to improve troubled schools. He said, this time around, he hasn’t heard how Gary school officials determined the number of cuts, and he’s particularly surprised that veteran teachers, some with 25 or more years teaching, are targeted for layoffs.

“There’s been a significant decline in the morale with the staff and employees. There’s so much uncertainty and anxiety that, how can people even begin to prepare for next year? We’ve got a lot of master teachers looking for jobs elsewhere,” Tolliver said. “We feel that this has not been a shared sacrifice. We like to find out what administrative cuts have taken place that would reflect that this has been a shared sacrifice.”

Tolliver said the district has a contractual obligation to meet a July 1 deadline to inform the union exactly what cuts are coming. Tolliver added that there’s more at stake than relations between the union and management.

“These cuts are creating an enormous burden not only on teachers but the children that they serve,” Tolliver said. “We want to give the students the best possible opportunity to be successful and right now that’s not the case.”

The Gary School Board meets Tuesday night, though Tolliver expects the issue to be discussed at the following meeting on June 28. A spokesman for Gary schools could not be reached for comment.

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