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Budget crunch hits home for North Kitsap teachers

NORTH KITSAP ­— While there is a possibility some or all of the teachers laid off last week by the North Kitsap School District could be re-hired, they currently sit in a state of professional limbo.

“I guess all along I knew this was possible,” said Martha Little, a first year English and Spanish teacher at Kingston Middle School whose contract was terminated last week. “I understand the basis behind (the layoffs), but it’s not a good place to be, especially with the economy the way it is.”

Last week, the district handed pink slips to eight teachers, three of them full time instructors at the middle school level and the rest part time teachers in other areas of the district.

The decision to let teachers go was not an easy one for administrators to settle on. The reduction in force was seen as a last resort to help stabilize a budget shortfall of more than $2 million for the 2009-10 school year.

“This is not something we’re taking lightly, and it’s not something we want to have to do,” NKSD Director of Human Resources Chris Willits said when the layoffs were authorized.

By and large, teachers are understanding of the current economic situation the district faces.

“I think overall they (district administrators) have been fairly fiscally responsible, and if they don’t have the funds, they have to come from somewhere,” said Jeremy Coleman, a first year social studies instructor and boys junior varsity basketball coach at Kingston High School.

Because five of the eight teachers laid off are part time employees, the firings amounted to an overall reduction of only five and a half full time equivalent positions. With a projected enrollment increase of 64 students throughout the district for the upcoming school year, the average class size is expected to grow by one student per class.

“That’s the biggest tragedy amongst this,” Coleman said. “(Students) are going to be in a situation where they’re going to have increased class size. Once you get above 30 kids in the classroom, the people that are missing out are the kids.”

In addition to the cuts made in the classroom, which saved close to $300,000, district officials reduced and reorganized administrative staff to save an additional $215,150. The shuffle included the departure of Gregg Epperson, a 36-year veteran of the district. Epperson, a former teacher himself and current executive director of Student Support Services for the NKSD, will begin work as the new superintendent of the Central Consolidated School District in Shiprock, N.M., June 1.

As enrollment, income and budget numbers continue to fluctuate through the summer, teachers hope the uncertain future will hold better news than the present.

“I don’t know if I’ll be back to teach classes or not,” Little said. “I’m still hoping that something will change.”

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