Durango School District 9-R employees were put on notice Wednesday that positions likely will be cut to compensate for a projected enrollment drop and the weak economy.
In a joint statement from 9-R and the district's two unions, employees were told that attrition will be taken into account first. Then, one-year and probationary teachers will be laid off if necessary. Teachers with at least three years' experience likely will be spared.
"It is not anticipated that any non-probationary teachers will lose employment as a result of this process, although their assignments could be affected," the statement said.
Teachers gain non-probationary status after three years in 9-R. Teachers on probationary status can be axed at any time and for any reason.
"We're trying to be transparent about what the school district faces," Superintendent Keith Owen said.
The district's legions of support staff - including everyone from custodians to secretaries - could also be affected. Under current plans, the district "will consider attrition and one year-only contracts prior to implementing a reduction in force. If there is a reduction in force, the district will consider length of employment, additional areas of competence, quality of performance based on evaluations and district needs."
Owen said he hoped 9-R sheds enough staff through retirements, resignations and cuts to one-year positions that layoffs will not be necessary. The district typically uses one-year contracts to fill in for staff on maternity or medical leave, hiring late in the school year and enrollment bubbles that require extra staff.
The district should know its staffing needs by early April, Owen said. Principals would then evaluate their own schools' staffing levels.
District 9-R spokeswoman Dyan Lee said the one-page joint statement contemplates a number of "what-if" scenarios.
"It's meant to keep staff informed," she said. "Nothing is concrete or decided."
The statement itself cautions that there "has been no decision with respect to the employment status of any individual."
The joint statement was issued by 9-R, the Durango Education Association and the Durango Support Personnel Association. The DEA is the teachers' union, while the DSPA is the union for support staff. The district had the equivalent of 333 full-time teachers in fall 2007, the most recent data available.
Njal Schold, president of the DEA and a Durango High School teacher, also warned against reading too much into the statement.
"It identifies a process, and it's really not intended to indicate anything beyond that," he said.
The 4,839-student district has operated on deficit budgets for years. Financial concerns have heightened considerably in recent months because enrollment is expected to drop substantially when school reopens in August. Durango High School could be hit particularly hard: Enrollment is projected to fall from 1,512 this school year to 1,193 in 2009-10. Enrollment also is expected to drop districtwide.
The district projects Durango High's incoming freshman class will be smaller than the graduating senior class, and a new charter school could draw away up to 100 students in 9-R's worst-case scenario. State budget gaps add to the worries. Lawmakers are considering various cost-cutting moves that could cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars.