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South Whidbey School District lays off six educators

Six teachers will lose their jobs in the latest round of budget cuts in South Whidbey schools.

The teaching staff at Bayview School will shoulder most of the cuts.

The layoffs were not unexpected, as the South Whidbey School District continues to struggle with fewer dollars coming from the state and an ongoing drop in student enrollment.

Leaders of the teachers’ union said they were troubled by the cuts, which mark the sixth year in a row the district has issued “reduction in force” notices to the teaching staff.

“Any time there is a reduction in force we are devastated,” Jan McNeely and Val Brown, co-presidents of South Whidbey’s bargaining unit for the Public School Employees of Washington, said in a joint statement. “It is particularly difficult when certificated staff are reduced and administrative staff are increased.”

Bayview School, the home of the district’s alternative education program, is losing three educators. The layoffs include Diane Burgess, an online educator for Bayview School and a school district employee since March 2007; Michele Sakaguchi, a science teacher who has worked for the district since September 2008; and David Haslet, who was hired in September.

South Whidbey Superintendent Fred McCarthy said the staffing cuts were needed to help the district reduce its budget by $750,000.

He noted that the state Legislature reduced funding for education, leaving school districts to find money or lose staff and faculty.

“In my opinion the state Legislature is not living up to its paramount duty in the Constitution to fund public schools appropriately,” McCarthy said.

“It’s very disappointing to have to make these levels of reductions, and we certainly would want to have more adults working with children and employed in our school system,” he said.

McCarthy said the district cut $100,000 through efficiency moves, and cut $500,000 by eliminating the six teachers.

Additional jobs will be cut in the weeks ahead. District officials said any classified staff who will lose their jobs will be notified no later than the last day of school on June 23.

McCarthy said the week economy has hurt the district and others as well, noting the ballot measures that have fallen to defeat on South Whidbey.

As a result of a weak economy on Whidbey, McCarthy said the South Whidbey School District is one of the “most profoundly affected districts in the state.”

Cuts in the teachers’ ranks are based on priority after the district examines how many students are projected to enroll, how many teachers are needed and what the budget will be.

The other three teachers on the RIF list are Leslie Woods, Sharla Matthews and Jessica Foley.

Woods has been employed in the school district for nine years and is a kindergarten teacher at South Whidbey Elementary School. She was the most tenured educator to be released and was hired in August 2002.

Matthews is the director, conferencing advisor and a teacher at Whidbey Island Academy; she was hired in December 2005.

Foley is the director of bands at Langley Middle School and was hired in August 2007.

McCarthy said replacing Foley will be difficult because losing her creates an opening for a .4 (two periods) jazz music teacher, a position which requires someone to be certified, endorsed and highly qualified.

McNeely and Brown, the union representatives for South Whidbey teachers, said the layoffs will hurt students.

“Loss of staff leads to loss of programs and exponentially loss of choices and options to students throughout the district,” said McNeely and Brown, who are both teachers at South Whidbey Elementary School. “Every child who attends school in this district has been and will be impacted by [the] reduction in force.”

The district began with a much larger pool of candidates, then reduced the list to six teachers for the final RIF list.

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