The Harbinger Online

District implements teacher cuts, affecting East staff members

Thirty-seven teacher’s contracts won’t be renewed for the 2010-2011 school year. This was a unanimous decision by all seven member of the Shawnee Mission School District Board of Education at their April 26 meeting. They passed a reduction in force (RIF) proposal made by SMSD Superintendent Gene Johnson to non-renew the contracts of thirty-seven professional employees and teachers, effective at the end of this school year.

Among the list of teachers were three from East: David Muhammad, Ken Foley, and Robert Bickers. Muhammad and Foley were re-hired into the district but Bicker’s future with the district is still uncertain.

According to Johnson, the district was forced into RIF action after budget reductions left more teachers than the district thought necessary. He describes the upcoming school year as a “unique year” because in previous years the district was in need of teachers and therefore looked to hire. Before the Board was able to make their decision Johnson expressed he was “saddened and angered” by the vote that was about to take place.

The district RIF process was negotiated with the Kansas National Education Association, the union that represents SMSD teachers, and is centered around seniority and licensure. The process is followed exactly from beginning to end, according to Johnson and Sheryl Siegele, President of the Shawnee Mission KNEA.

“[RIF] was set in place thirty years ago,” Siegele said. “It is kind of like the emergency evacuation procedures that everyone is supposed to have in their house. We hope we will never have a fire but if we do this is how we will get out. That is kind of how our RIF procedure is like. We hope we never have to use it but if we do it is set in place so we don’t show any favoritism and [follow the procedure].”

Each staff member within the district received a number that ranged from 1 to 2,224, those with the largest number were first on the list of possible reductions. Then retirees and resignations were taken into account. If a teacher resigned or retired, the staff member with the lowest RIF number of the teachers that had been cut was “called back” and told he or she still had a position in the district.

Although he was originally on the RIF list, Muhammad was rehired by the district. It is uncertain  where his position will be but he has the assurance he will stay in the district. Muhammad heard the news when he called Joy Torgeson, SMSD Manager of Human Resources who told him of a retirement which opened a position that would let him keep his job in the district.

Foley was in similar situation to Muhammad. He was originally on the RIF list but was later offered his same position at East.

“I felt pretty relieved,” Foley said. “They told me right away that I would most likely be rehired but it wasn’t certain so when they actually rehired me it was quite a relief.”

Foley is glad he was offered his position because he wants to be a “lancer until he retires.”

The district has already cut nearly $10 million for the upcoming school year, according Donna Bysfield, the East area Board of Education member. Cuts from the state education budget still could occur and would add to the cuts already made by the district, a situation Bysfield hopes doesn’t happen. The legislative session was expected to finish last week. No additional state budget cuts had been made as of deadline.

Principal Dr. Karl Krawitz sympathized with the three from the moment he heard of the RIF plan.

“I was upset for them personally because it was their job, their career,” Krawitz said. “You start thinking about your own family and ask ‘What are these people going to do?’”

Krawitz admits that towards the beginning of the district budget cuts he was optimistic that RIF would not occur. The reason for this, he explains, is because he has never been at this point in his career and it was hard for him to imagine the situation going this far.

Unlike Muhammad and Foley, Bickers is still on the “call back” list which means he has not been offered a job in the district and will remained on the list until he either finds another job in a public school district or someone in SMSD retires or resigns. Although Bickers had a hunch that he would be on the list, he was still uncertain before his meeting with Krawitz.

“It was kind of strange,” Bickers said. “I saw it coming, but it is not news you ever want to hear. I was sad that it had reached this point.”

In hopes of showing support for Bickers, many students have joined a Facebook group, SMSD shouldn’t cut Mr. Bickers, in honor of him. This group was created by Junior Jake Sirna after he heard news of Bicker’s possibly layoff.

“[When I found out] I was shocked,” Sirna said. “I believe Bickers is one of the best teachers at East and he is being let go right after he won teacher of year, which doesn’t make sense to me.”

He hopes that more people will join the group and that their voices will finally be heard. He believes that since Bickers was such an effective teacher for so many students that if enough people step up then the district might reconsider.

Ninety-nine students from every grade level had joined Sirna’s group as of Wednesday, posting comments to voice their opinion. While they differ in their reasons, the basic message is still the same: save Mr. Bickers.  Senior Chris Miller showed his support by commenting “Having had Mr. Bickers for three different classes I think it’s a [darn] shame that a good teacher, not to mention a good guy like him, is getting cut.”

Krawitz hopes that in the future RIF can be avoided not only because of the tough process but also the anxiety it creates.

“I think that now that we as an organization have experienced it for the first time we have got to find a better way to do it,” Krawitz said.  “I don’t know what that way would be because we have never been at this place before, but the district may need take another look.”

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