Duluth School Board approves final round of layoffs

With expressions of sorrow and the opposition of one member, the Duluth School Board voted on Tuesday to lay off 29 additional full- and part-time teachers.

With expressions of sorrow and the opposition of one member, the Duluth School Board voted on Tuesday to lay off 29 additional full- and part-time teachers.

The teacher cuts will help the district to close a $3.8 million budget gap.

The cuts include eight non-tenured teachers and 21 tenured teachers. Another six non-tenured teachers were cut in May.

In addition to the cuts, 31 teachers retired this year, said Tim Sworsky, the school system's human resources manager. Some of those positions will be filled, he said.

The cuts run the gamut of subjects: art, business education, English, family consumer science, German language, industrial arts, math, music, physical education and health, science, social studies, Spanish language and vocational education. There also are cuts in elementary teachers, guidance counseling and special services.


Teachers must be notified by July 1 if they are going to be laid off. Some teachers typically are called back as other teachers decide to retire and grants are approved to fund positions, Sworsky said.

Board member Tom Kasper said he approved the cuts with reluctance. "My hope is that come August when we're looking at our numbers we bring as many of these folks back as we can."

Art Johnston was the only board member to vote against the cuts, saying they were the result of money transferred from the general fund to pay for the long-range facilities plan. "We have intentionally laid these people off," he said.

Johnston also complained that teachers had been notified about layoffs before the board had the chance to act. Several other board members defended that process, saying it was proper to give teachers advance notice.

Mary Cameron, a 16-year board member, said layoffs weren't tied to the facilities plan.

"We've been making layoffs since I've been on the board," Cameron said. "We're not the only institution that's doing so."

Board member Judy Seliga Punyko said the cuts were regrettable but necessary. "I don't want to vote for (the cuts), but I'm being fiscally responsible," she said.

Board member Bill Westholm said cuts stem naturally from a shrinking school system.


"It's inevitable," Westholm said. "We've got a declining enrollment, and when we have fewer students we have fewer courses we can offer and we need fewer teachers."

Contacted later, Frank Wanner, president of the Duluth Federation of Teachers, placed most of the blame for cuts on the state Legislature. He also pointed to the decision by school district voters not to approve a levy request last year.

"I think it's unfortunate that the state hasn't provided funding which is adequate to provide education for Minnesota students," Wanner said. "The taxpayers in Duluth decided not to support education by passing the levy."

But Wanner said Johnston had a point about the facilities plan. He noted that new construction included two Olympic-sized swimming pools.

"We can afford state-of-the art swimming pools but we can't afford the teachers we need in our classrooms," Wanner said. "I think that's sad."

At a time politicians are talking about job creation, Duluth is losing professional-level jobs, he said.

"We are losing people with a wealth of experience, and they're all excellent teachers," Wanner said. "It's a loss to the school district. It's a loss to the community."

Along with the staff cuts, the board approved a revised budget for fiscal 2013.


Some of the savings weren't as great as had been anticipated when the original list was proposed in March, said Bill Hanson, business services director. For instance, nearly $1.1 million expected to be saved by reducing the middle schools from seven to six periods was reduced to $795,000. Overall, the proposed savings were $1.3 million less than planned. However, an unexpected decrease of 5 percent in health insurance premiums compared with fiscal 2012 would make up the difference, Hanson said. The school system had expected a 6 percent increase in the premiums.

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