An email sent to teachers in the Gilbert Public Schools

by David Safier
The Gilbert Public Schools Superintendent sent an email to teachers about what he calls "potential budget adjustments." I'm sure similar emails are going out in districts around the state. These are the stories behind the much-publicized pink slips we hear about in the news — ways to trim costs, which could save teaching positions. I've been through similar situations in my teaching career. You can be sure, no one is happy right now.

Some of the changes are going to save money by costing teachers money — cutting back on stipends and taking money from salaries to cover some health insurance costs. The others limiting teacher leave days will probably save very little money. Few teachers use all their sick leave or personal leave days during the year. The restrictions will mainly affect teachers who have exceptional situations that require extra leave. But suspending bereavement leave — that just seems harsh. How many teachers take off for bereavement in a given year? It can't be enough to amount to much of a savings. I suppose those grieving teachers will have to take unpaid leave, adding an extra financial burden to their woes.

These changes are being discussed outside of collective bargaining, for the moment at least. I don't know Arizona contractual language, but that's probably OK in the case of emergency budget shortfalls.

Here's the full email.

To All GPS Employees:

When I last addressed you regarding certified reduction in force, I communicated a list of other potential  budget adjustments.  These items included, but were not limited to:

1.     Suspending new national board certified stipends and not increasing existing stipends.
2.     Removing supplemental stipends at the elementary level for art, PE, band, and strings.
3.     Enacting an employee contribution toward individual health benefits across all employee groups.
4.     Suspending bereavement leave across all employee groups.
5.     Reducing personal leave across all employee groups.
6.     Reducing the number of medical days earned in a contract year across all employee groups.

Normally, these items would have gone to the Interest-Based Bargaining Team for their action.  However, we are not experiencing a “normal” budget situation.  The State of Arizona and Gilbert Public Schools are dealing with a serious financial crisis unlike any seen in recent history.

The Governing Board and the Superintendency have needed to take action independent of the IBBT process because of the need to address the financial challenges with as little delay as possible.  By its very nature, the IBBT process usually takes significant time to work through single issues.  Our challenge in balancing this budget is very complex.  We simply could not bring the volume of district-wide issues to the IBBT process and expect to resolve this crisis.

The IBBT members have not been consulted or asked to approve any considerations being made to address our budget crisis.  When state funds have been released and our district budget clearly defined, we fully intend to revisit any issues that would typically fall within IBBT’s parameters through its established process.  The Governing Board and the Superintendency continue to fully endorse and respect the interest-based bargaining model.

Our certified staff will certainly not be asked to shoulder all of the sacrifices needed to meet this crisis.  Plans that will impact administrative and classified employment and benefits have been, and continue to be developed.  According to state law, certified staff, subject to RIF procedures, had to be notified by April 15th.  School districts are not legally bound by that date when considering actions concerning administrative or classified staff employment.  We will continue to release information regarding all budget action as we formally adopt such decisions at the Governing Board or Superintendency level.  Many of these decisions must wait until a state budget is adopted.

I have also heard concerns from staff regarding the priority and process of rehiring “riffed” teachers to Gilbert Public Schools.  Information regarding this process will be provided to all employees in the very near future.  The district will carefully follow all adopted policies to address this issue.

We understand that “riffed” teachers may desire to know their exact position on a re-employment list. That information is not possible to determine until we know the specific needs of the teaching positions to be re-staffed.

On a regular basis, further information will be released at the GPS website under the “Superintendent’s Message”.

Thank you for understanding as we continue to explore, develop, and implement plans to cope with this crisis.

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