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Laid-off teachers face exit decision
Hall educators who resign may not be eligible for unemployment benefits
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Hear Steven Wang, president of the Hall County Education Association, describe how laid-off teachers feel about the cuts.

The 100 or so Hall County teachers laid off earlier this month were given until Friday to determine how they would end their teaching careers in the system.

Teachers’ decisions of whether or not to resign could have far-reaching implications regarding future employment opportunities, and could affect their chance of collecting unemployment insurance.

Richard Hill, assistant superintendent for Hall County schools, said the teachers were notified March 6 they would not be offered contracts for the 2009-10 school year. He said teachers had until Friday to report whether they would leave the system as a resignee or as a nonrenewal.

Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said slumping local and state revenues coupled with lagging enrollment led to the teacher cuts.

Hill said if a teacher chooses the nonrenewed option, which will be recorded in personnel files, that appears as an involuntary separation. But if a teacher resigns, the separation with the system is considered to be of their own accord.

"Usually in a resignation, a person would not draw unemployment," Hill said. "... However, if a person resigns, we may be questioned whether that individual could have returned had they not resigned. We will be forthright in our response and our answer would be ‘no.’"

Hill said ultimately, it is up to the state Department of Labor’s unemployment claims examiner to determine who is eligible for unemployment on a case-by-case basis. He said teachers who resigned, as well as teachers who chose nonrenewal, could collect unemployment or be denied such benefits.

"I have no authority, nor can I speculate as to how the Department of Labor might rule with regard to a claim for unemployment," he said.

According to the Department of Labor, teachers who earned about $30,000 a year and who are found to be eligible for unemployment insurance would receive $330 a week for 26 weeks.

Hill said it is unlikely any additional teachers will be cut from the system this year. However, cuts for classified employees such as secretaries, paraprofessionals and custodians could be on the horizon.

Steven Wang, president of the Hall County Education Association, said laid-off teachers are caught in a Catch-22.

"Nonrenewal traditionally has carried a stigma as if you were fired from your job," Wang said. "But in this particular case, it’s for economic reasons, principally. So I’m not certain it will carry that sort of stigma."

Schofield told Wang in a school board meeting Monday the system may provide individuals with personal letters of recommendation as they search for new employment.

As laid-off teachers weigh the pros and cons of resigning, many of the elementary and middle school teachers who will be out of a job by the end of May continued to rigorously prepare students for the state Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. The state test, which is administered in mid-April, is the yardstick used to measure academic progress under federal No Child Left Behind requirements.

Wang said teachers who received the notice they will not be returning to a Hall County classroom in August have mixed emotions.

"Some people were expecting it, others have been dreading it, but hoping that they weren’t involved," he said. "... Some are upset, or more upset than others. Obviously all are scrambling to find other employment for next school year."

Wang said the cuts didn’t come without warning.

"I think that Superintendent Schofield has been pretty up front about people who are not tenured, people who had very little experience with the system, were in danger. By midschool year at the latest, there were indications there," he said.

Schofield said he hopes the system may be in a position later this year to rehire a few of the employees who were let go.

Wang said from a teacher’s perspective, the earlier they find out they will not be offered a contract for the next school year, the more time they have to sign a contract with another school system. He said Hall County could have waited until mid-April to inform teachers they would be out of a job.

Wang said the Hall County Education Association is against a state House bill that would extend the state deadline for teacher contracts from April 15 to May 15.

"(We are) against it because a teacher who doesn’t know until May 15th is in a terrible bind about finding other employment," he said.

While some area school systems also are laying teachers off, some are hiring teachers.

Gwinnett County Public Schools are bucking the regional trend of stalled enrollment growth, and still are taking on new students. System spokeswoman Sloan Roach said the Gwinnett district plans to hire several hundred teachers for next school year.

Roach said the system has no teacher layoffs planned, and will be opening nine new schools in the fall. Although the system still is hiring teachers, Roach said slowing enrollment has reduced the need for new teachers. In recent years, the system has hired about 1,000 new teachers a year, she said.

Sarah Greene, personnel director for Jackson County schools, said the system is laying off fewer than a dozen teachers this spring, but will simultaneously hire a few to fill positions for next school year.

The Forsyth County system is not laying off teachers, though the system did not grow as much as expected this year, spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo said. She said the system is hoping to open five new schools this fall with its current staff. The system canceled its February job fair, and has yet to determine if it will hire new teachers for the 2009-10 school year.

White County schools Superintendent Paul Shaw said his system probably will lay off four to eight teachers. He said the system may hire two or three math teachers for next year.

The Lumpkin County school system is neither hiring nor cutting teachers.

Angela Robinson, personnel director for Habersham County schools, said the system currently is assessing its financial situation. Robinson said the system anticipates no layoffs, and could hire a few academic coaches and special education teachers for next school year.

All systems hiring teachers next year ask applicants to apply online.