Education gives 11 more employees pink slips
Published: February 24, 2012
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After the V.I. Education Department dismissed 14 employees Wednesday on St. Croix, officials followed up Thursday in the St. Thomas-St. John District, dismissing 11 more employees, including teachers and support staff.
Education officials said they met with each employee privately, the department said. The employees immediately were relieved of their duties and placed on administrative leave until March 9, according to school and union officials who viewed copies of letters delivered to those dismissed.
Education spokeswoman Ananta Pancham said she did not know how many of the fired employees were teachers or which schools were affected as of Thursday night.
At a town hall meeting on St. Croix on Wednesday night, St. Croix Federation of Teachers President James Howell said that teachers were removed from their classrooms while teaching and given a letter saying they were terminated.
"The process that we followed has been laid out by the V.I. Division of Personnel and is the same process used by all other government agencies," V.I. Education Commissioner LaVerne Terry said in a prepared statement issued Thursday. "In executing those dismissals Wednesday and Thursday, Department officials met with each employee privately and each meeting was conducted with the utmost respect, understanding the difficulty of the task."
Pancham would not elaborate about how the terminations were conducted.
Thursday night, Howell stood by his previous description, saying that he was told by other teachers that some of the fired teachers were pulled from their classrooms.
The dismissals were based "solely on the current economic conditions," according to Terry's statement.
Government House has said there is a $67.5 million budget shortfall that needs to be closed and has begun implementing dismissals of government employees. About 500 government employees have lost their jobs in the first wave, officials have said.
Terry said, "while the situation is unfortunate, we, like all other government departments and agencies, have been required to reduce our budget to align with the realities of the current fiscal situation. Since the beginning of the 2011 school year, the department left vacant positions unfilled in hopes of saving as many jobs as possible. Numerous meetings were held with the superintendents, supervisors and building administrators to inform them that employee dismissals would become a reality and to seek input on areas that should be considered for reduction."
Pancham said the department looked at a number of cost-cutting alternatives before cutting teachers. In January, the department reorganized its Adult Education and Vocational programs to reduce costs and cut per diem positions.
Overall, the department employs 2,966 employees, according to recent budget testimony. Teachers account for just less than 50 percent of that figure.
Howell expressed concern about how the classes of those teachers would be covered.
"I know for sure we had classes where children did not get instruction because there were no teachers to give instruction," Howell said.
Pancham said that was not the case.
"This is a process, and during those meetings with the superintendents and the administrators, an issue like coverage is always discussed," she said. "We try to plan ahead. You might have to redistribute students between classrooms. In some cases, the teacher was a second teacher in a classroom."
Each school had previously worked out a plan to cover each classroom, Pancham said, though she had no information about how the department planned to track whether the mid-year dismissals would affect student progress.
St. Croix Deputy School Superintendent Maria Encarnacion said that each principal would have to be creative in coping with the losses.
"You can only fit so many kids in a classroom," she said. "We'll have to do walk-throughs and see what each building has: with the staff we have, can we reallocate them to other areas?"
One of the teachers on St. Croix taught science, Encarnacion said. "That's tough to replace."
"It's hard," she said, also expressing worry over the looming threat of future dismissals. "It's not a good time for us."
Tisha Samuel, a history teacher at John Woodson, also was worried about more dismissals, she said.
"Two doors down from me, a teacher lost her job. How could I sleep at night not knowing how she's going to support herself," she asked. "I'm worried about my job. I've heard there is going to be more."
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