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Layoffs for 80-plus in Willmar School District likely to be temporary

WILLMAR — The Willmar School Board laid off 87 non-tenured teachers and administrators Monday in an annual exercise related to the school district’s budget.

While the district has followed the same practice for several years, this year board member Linda Mathiasen objected at the board’s meeting Monday.

Mathiasen voted against two resolutions, one discontinuing positions equal to 86.2 full-time jobs and one laying off 87 people who are not tenured. Other board members voted in favor of the resolutions.

Mathiasen said she believes the blanket layoff each spring harms staff morale. It also can affect continuity of the staff at schools, she said.

Often, most of the positions are reinstated after the next year’s budget is settled and staffing needs are known.

“A great many of the people we lay off will come back,” said Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard.

Building principals have been instructed to act quickly to speak to teachers who will be coming back next year, Kjergaard said. They’ll also be speaking with teachers they don’t plan to rehire.

A recent state review of turnaround efforts at Kennedy Elementary School listed the relatively large number of new teachers and administrators as an obstacle to making needed improvements. Kennedy is working under a federal grant to increase achievement and close achievement gaps in the school.

Mathiasen pointed out that the staff turnover was one of the few concerns raised in the review by the Minnesota Department of Education.

The list of positions to be discontinued included 26 full-time-equivalent elementary teachers, 20.93 other teachers, 17 FTE special education teachers and 10.46 FTE English Language Learner teachers.

A dean of students and an assistant principal were included in the layoff list, too.

Mathiasen said the layoffs each year can cause a lot of tension among staff. Not all districts use the same method, she said.

Liz Fisher, the district’s human resources director, said the district doesn’t have to handle the layoffs the way it does, but it has been the practice for a number of years.

After talking to a human resources employee at another district, Mathiasen said, she was convinced that another method might be better for morale.

However, board members who were on the board before the current system was adopted said the previous system of laying off only specific people also created tension.

“This seems to be more beneficial,” Chairman Mike Carlson.

“The way we used to do it, it would single out the ones not coming back,” added board member Mike Reynolds. “This doesn’t single people out.”

In other business, the board approved the calendar for the 2014-15 school year. School will start on Sept. 2 and end on May 29. The school year will include an eight-day Christmas break and a one-week spring break.

The school year will also include several days when school starts two hours late to allow time for periodic staff training sessions.

Board member Jackie Saulsbury asked if the district should keep a spring break, noting that some districts in the state have decided to drop it.

Kjergaard said it has been a time for music or language trips. He did get a lot of pushback when spring break was cut a few years ago, he said.

“I’m going to be working anyway, so I don’t care,” he said.

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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