A lot of people are confused about the unfortunate coda to Tuesday night’s vote on JROTC — the subsequent decision to issue layoff notices to the 12 JROTC instructors, whose program we had just brought back from the brink after three years of limbo. I’ll try to recount what happened, and what happens next.
At around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday evening, the Board voted to reinstate the program, after which there was much celebration by the assembled supporters of the program. Then the supporters (understandably, after four-and-a-half hours of sitting there) went home while the Board got down to the rest of the meeting.
About an hour later, we got to an item asking the Board to approve layoffs of the 12 JROTC instructors and 1.5 Vocational Ed instructors. I had assumed that item was there as a precaution in case the Board did not approve the resolution to reinstate the program (under state law, the district must issue final layoff notices by May 15 if it plans to lay off certificated employees for the following school year). After all, if there weren’t going to be a JROTC program, there would be no point in continuing to employ the JROTC instructors, whose credentials don’t allow them to bump into other teaching positions.
So I proposed an amendment deleting the JROTC instructors from the resolution, but was shocked when the staff argued that the ongoing uncertainty over the enrollment and credits for the program necessitated going ahead with the layoffs. They could always be rescinded, the staff and the superintendent argued, and so to preserve maximum flexibility while the credit issues are being worked out, they recommended the Board approve the layoff resolution as offered, authorizing the district to send out layoff notices.
Well, it had been a long night, and I got a bit emotional. I haven’t watched the replays, but I got a text message from a friend reminding me I was on TV and telling me to cool off a little. And political blogger Sweet Melissa quoted me as being on quite a rant. My amendment was voted down, 5-2, allowing the resolution to pass as offered, again 5-2. After that, I had to leave the room for a while.
So what does this mean for the instructors, dedicated teachers who have endured three years of uncertainty about their jobs, and the almost unimaginable stress of fighting this most contentious of issues over and over again? It means they will get letters next week informing them that, as of now, they don’t have jobs next year. If the layoffs are rescinded (which I have been assured they will be), their jobs will be restored. But I have no way of knowing when that will happen, and in the meantime they will have to endure yet more stress and uncertainty.
During the argument over my amendment, I said something about how taking the action to lay off the instructors even after saving their program was nothing short of mean-spirited. In general, I’m sympathetic to the idea that we should maintain flexibility in hiring decisions, so that we aren’t forced to employ people we don’t need at the expense of other priorities. But in this case, everything points to the fact that the enrollment in this program will pick up now that its presence is assured. By refusing to shed these 12 jobs, we would have acknowledged that the past three years have been very hard on some of our dedicated teaching staff. We would have sent the message that we were prepared to stand by our decision and implement it honorably, even though not everyone agrees with the decision we made. We failed to do that.
The upshot? This too will pass, but only after adding to the heap of collateral damage this mother of all policy fights has caused to students, instructors, and the district itself.