The people behind the pink slips

April 16, 2002 12:00 am
Tyler Tidwell got some help from his teacher, Brenda Payton, during recent testing at Haines School. Payton said it was her desire to learn more about how to help students that prompted her to seek a teaching degree after serving as a parent volunteer for 11 years and a teaching assistant for one year. (Baker City Herald photograph by Kathy Orr).
Tyler Tidwell got some help from his teacher, Brenda Payton, during recent testing at Haines School. Payton said it was her desire to learn more about how to help students that prompted her to seek a teaching degree after serving as a parent volunteer for 11 years and a teaching assistant for one year. (Baker City Herald photograph by Kathy Orr).

By CHRIS COLLINS

Of the Baker City Herald

Brenda Payton will not be returning next year to the Haines classroom where she's spent the past two years of her three-year teaching career with the Baker School District.

Because of her short tenure with the district, the 38-year-old is one of seven elementary teachers who received layoff notices last month because of an expected funding shortfall in next year's budget.

And although Payton acknowledges that the layoff notice was expected, it still was hard to take when it actually was delivered.

"I thought I was prepared," she said. "But when I finally did get the letter, it was really tough. It was harder than I thought it would be."

The total number of teachers and support workers who have been laid off, resigned or retired was at 31.5 Friday, according to Don Ulrey, the district's personnel and curriculum director.

He will present a personnel report to the Baker School Board when it meets Tuesday night. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the district office, 2090 Fourth St. The board also will act on resignations and retirements.

Payton was the lone teacher at Keating School during her first year. She has taught a blended second- and third-grade classroom at the Haines School for the past two years. It's a school and community that she has grown to love.

In fact, she recalls how she made the decision to become a teacher while volunteering as a parent in the very classroom that has been her own for these last two years.

Her son, Seth, was a Haines third-grader then. The BHS senior is serving as a volunteer in his mother's classroom this year.

Payton had been a parent volunteer in the schools for 11 years and then worked as a teaching assistant in the district for a year before deciding to obtain her teaching degree.

Payton said that attaining her goal required the support and sacrifice of her entire family and they share her sorrow in the loss of her job.

"My family feels like it's happening to them as well as to me," she said.

And although she is at the top of the list to be called back if the funding shortfall is not as great as anticipated, Payton is carefully weighing her options.

She plans to return to Eastern Oregon University in La Grande this summer to pursue her master's degree. Depending on legislative action regarding school funding, Payton might decide to shift her focus away from classroom teaching to another aspect of education.

Early retirements could save jobs

Carmen Ott, who has taught U.S. history, world geography and economics for the past seven years, is one of three teachers who have tendered their retirement at Baker High School this spring. Ott said she decided to retire two years earlier than she had planned in an effort to help save two part-time positions at the high school.

The 56-year-old could have taken full retirement in two more years. Prior to beginning her teaching career, she spent 13 years as a secretary in the BHS guidance department, and she qualifies for retirement under the Public Employees Retirement System.

Ott is a 1964 BHS graduate. Her husband, Bill, retired four years ago after a 30-year teaching career with the district. Their two children also are BHS graduates.

"Our goal was to give something back to the district," she said.

In retirement, she will continue to help the community's young people as a volunteer through the literacy program and development of the skateboard park.

"My reason for retiring is that ... I wanted to save some jobs, and that's what I did," she added.

Another cut — from the district's general fund budget — is Ulrey's present position, which will be eliminated next year. He will step into the role of superintendent July 1.

Although he would not release names or positions that correspond with the job cuts, Ulrey provided numbers, in full-time equivalences (which could, for example, include two part-time jobs as one FTE). In addition to his administrative position, another half-time administrator has been eliminated from next year's budget, but will be funded through federal money, Ulrey said.

Along with the seven elementary teachers in Grades K-5 who've been notified that they will be laid off, one has resigned. There have been no layoffs at Baker High School, where there has been a half-time resignation and three retirements.

Three licensed staff members have retired at Baker Middle School and there has been one layoff.

One district office employee has resigned and one has retired. Layoff notices went out to nine FTE among classified employees, who include teaching assistants, secretaries and cooks and other support service workers. Resignations have been received from classified positions totaling 3.5 FTE.

Funding still in question

The first round of pink slips went only to employees whose jobs would be cut based on reducing district expenses by $1.6 million. The Baker School Board has approved a prioritized list of budget reductions totaling $2.2 million with the understanding that only $1.6 million in cuts would be made at this point.

The actual funding deficit will not be finalized until after the May 21 election, when voters statewide will decide whether to approve a plan to borrow $220 million from the Education Endowment Fund. If voters reject the plan, state funding of schools would be reduced by that amount and the 5J district would be faced with making more cuts, according to Ulrey and Nick Eddy, interim superintendent.