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Willmar, Minn., School District layoffs affecting 80 non-tenured teachers; many likely to return

WILLMAR — The Willmar School Board voted to terminate the contracts of 80 non-tenured teachers Monday, an annual practice.

Many of the teachers may be rehired before the next school year, depending on the district’s needs and financial condition.

The list includes 25 full-time equivalents among elementary teachers, 7.6 FTE in English Language Learner teachers and 4.3 FTE in physical education. Some of the teachers are working full-time while others are part-time.

New teachers must work for the district for three years to be eligible for tenure.

While the layoff is an annual occurrence, the number of layoffs is probably higher than in other years because of a number of staff members hired on one-year contracts in the elementary schools.

Some salaries have been paid this year through a $500,000 federal grant to Kennedy Elementary, received because of the school’s low state test scores. Both elementary schools have added staff members this year to implement improvement plans required by the state.

The board voted 6-to-1 to go ahead with the layoffs, with board member Linda Mathiasen dissenting.

“This is a sizable chunk of staff; I was hoping to see a different result rather than a broad sweep,” Mathiasen said when the list came up at Monday’s board meeting.

The blanket layoff of all non-tenured staff could hurt morale and productivity, she said, and other districts do handle the situation differently.

With principals doing multiple observations in classrooms, “shouldn’t we know who we want,” Mathiasen asked.

“This is more efficient for the administration,” said Board member Mike Reynolds. He added that he has seen both systems used, and he believes it is better.

Board member Dan Croonquist asked when the staff members will find out if they will be rehired.

“Some people it will be next month,” said Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard. “They usually know by the end of the school year. … Since we try to do this early, it allows us to bring them back early.”

The district does face the possibility of losing some staff members who look for jobs elsewhere, he said, “but this is much cleaner than picking and choosing, which is what ends up happening in some districts.”

Middle School Principal Mark Miley said he has worked under both types of systems, and the broad-based layoff seems to work better. Staff members understand the system, and administrators talk to them about their situation, he said.

The board also approved reducing a contract length for one tenured teacher, media specialist Joel Brenckman, who currently beyond a full-time contract and had requested the reduction. The change removes 20 days of summer work from the contract.

In other business, Business and Finance Director Pam Harrington reported that the district’s enrollment has remained steady at about 4,200 students since the end of January. The enrollment is higher than it has been in several years.

The board approved advertising for bids for summer roof projects at Garfield, Senior High and WEAC, freezer/cooler remodeling at Kennedy and science classroom remodeling at Middle School.

The board also approved the 2013-14 school year calendar. The school year will begin on Sept. 3, and the last day of classes is to be June 5. Graduation will be June 1.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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