For the second year in a row, Sonoma County has seen a dramatic drop in the number of layoff notices issued to teachers whose jobs are vulnerable to being cut for the 2014-15 school year.
Slightly more than 26 teaching jobs across Sonoma County's 40 school districts and the county office of education could be eliminated in the fall, well below the 70 pink slips issued last year. Layoff warnings peaked at nearly 200 in 2009 as districts grappled with deep budget cuts that forced increased class sizes, shortened school years and shuttered programs.
A stabilized state budget, as well as voter-approved Proposition 30 in November 2012, are credited with the dramatic drop in layoff notices.
"There is more certainty in the state budget that we are not going to have reductions for 2014-15," said Denise Calvert, deputy superintendent of business services for the Sonoma County Office of Education. "No one is losing money next year, so that could be the reason for the reduction" in layoff notices, she said.
The state requires districts to alert permanent and probationary teachers by March 15 if their positions could be eliminated in the following school year. The numbers do not include temporary teachers who are notified each year that their spots in the classroom are not guaranteed.
School districts have until May 15 to either rescind layoff warnings or make them final. Many district officials said they are formulating ways to keep teachers who were given notice by today's deadline.
Fifteen, well over half, of those notices were issued by the Sonoma Office of Education, which is undergoing an overhaul of how special education services are provided.
Under the new Local Control Funding Formula which outlines how education officials spend money, districts will get additional money for providing special education service instead of contracting through the county office of education, according to county superintendent Steve Herrington.
"It's the best placement for students, being run by their own districts. That is the philosophy behind it," he said.
"We have had good lead time. We have worked with our teachers unit," he said.
Nine of the most senior teachers are expected to stay at the county office under a different job title, while the remaining six are expected to transfer to the districts taking over the special education programs, including Cotati-Rohnert Park, Sonoma Valley and Petaluma, Herrington said.
In Sebastopol, four full-time positions are at risk. Superintendent Linda Irving said the notices have to do with persistent declining enrollment rather the budget.
Since 1996-97, enrollment has fallen from 1,400 to 560 students this year.
The district's large eighth-grade class is moving on and is followed by a significantly smaller seventh-grade class, Irving said. The same dynamic is playing out with the district's sixth- and fifth-graders.
"I anticipate being able to rescind some of those notices, but a conservative budget is a smart thing to do," Irving said. "In Sebastopol we noticed teachers with a lot of tenure. These are not new teachers. It's really hard; it's a really hard time right now."
For at least one district, the layoff is contingent upon spring fundraising.
Kenwood School District gave notices to a part-time physical education teacher in the one-school district, but officials are eyeing an upcoming fundraiser as a way to keep the position in place, said Superintendent Bob Bales.